This summer I interned with the Congressional Award Foundation (CAF) on Capitol Hill. Interning with the CAF is a unique opportunity because it is the only non-partisan, non-profit organization established by Congress. This has allowed me to gain professional experience in interacting with other segments of government while doing non-profit work in the public sector. This internship has further developed my professional experience in both written and verbal communication, teamwork, and has provided opportunities for creativity and to increase my skills in event planning, social media, marketing, and public relations. The internship exceeded my expectations in terms of fulfilling work, opportunities for skill development, an enjoyable work environment, as well as exposure to various workings of our government.
The Congressional Award program is open to all 14 to 24-year-olds in the U.S. and its territories. Participants earn Bronze, Silver and Gold Congressional Award Certificates and Bronze, Silver and Gold Congressional Award Medals. Each level involves setting goals in four program areas: Volunteer Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration. As a Gold Medalist, one of the requirements is to fill out a record book logging a certain number of hours in each program area. In 2016, I earned the Congressional Award Gold Medal, so it was exciting to be on the other side of this process this summer. Reviewing the record books of many CAF participants and mailing out certificates and medals to them was enjoyable because I knew how excited each participant would be to receive their hard-earned awards acknowledging their achievement.
My studies at St. John’s College has benefited me immensely with my work at the CAF because of the constant think-on-your-feet tone set in the classroom. This has helped me in multitasking, answering phone calls, and being calm and patient when things do not always go as planned. For example, the very first phone call I answered was from Congresswoman and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office. I needed to transfer the call to my boss, but had difficulty using the phone. Remaining calm and not getting flustered allowed me to step back from the situation and remember how to transfer the phone line which resolved the issue. Another example of how my studies at St. John’s helped in my work environment is the quality of the papers required to be written throughout the school year. This was of great benefit when I needed to send out emails quickly, write short bios of participants, and work on the annual Golf Classic invitational letters which were sent to Representatives and Senators.
Each year there is an annual Gold Medal Ceremony for participants across our nation. Recipients fly into Washington, D.C. and are presented with their gold medal by their Congressman and or Senator at a special event. Because there were 375 Gold Medalists this year, there was a morning ceremony and an afternoon ceremony. When each medalist walked across the stage in the Congressional Auditorium to receive their medal, a script note of what they did to earn the award was read by the emcee. Our morning emcee was CNN’s Lead Political Anchor Wolf Blitzer. I had the privilege of writing each bio for the morning ceremony for CNN Anchor Wolf Blizter to read.
The following are some of the daily tasks which I fulfilled: filing, sending out registration packets with record books, updating the Congressional Award’s website, picking up mail at Union Station, proofreading the 2017 Gold Medal program book, putting together board books for the annual board meeting, organizing the supplies in the back office, writing emails for press releases, helping set up and run the annual Poker Charity fundraiser, interviewing Gold Medalists for social media, Facebook live streaming the Gold Medal Ceremony, escorting board members, spearheading the iPhone/iPad app-development projects, running the STEM golf polo shirt challenge, and delivering and picking up photos and documents from Representative and Senate offices. Some enjoyable moments included meeting Senators Cory Booker, Brian Schatz, and Chris Murphy, and meeting Second Lady Karen Pence. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this internship has been the mentorship from the senior staff and the personal growth I have gained.
My career goals have changed in the sense that this internship has further motivated me to continue to help others across our nation and the world whether that be through non-profit work in a small community or on a larger scale. Interning with the CAF has helped me learn that I work well under pressure. Therefore, I need to have more confidence in my abilities and not fear making mistakes. Mistakes in life may be inevitable, but it is the way in which they are dealt that shapes and defines a person.
What I have really loved about the environment at the CAF are the dynamics of the workplace. Everyone there is friendly and understanding of your needs and truly shares an interest in helping you do your best. For me, this is the most important element that I would like to see in my future employment: where everyone in the office, regardless of their position or rank, is friendly, kind, and goes out of their way to help you do your best work. I would love to support the CAF moving forward. Although it is a small office with only 5 full-time employees, I would like to keep this door open as a potential place of employment. I would highly recommend interning with the Congressional Award Foundation to other students not only because it is a valuable learning experience, but also because it will strengthen your personal and professional skills in many areas.