MEAGAN KELLY/THE HOYA White House intern James Li lacks an oval office, but always has Lauinger Library.
White House intern James Li lacks an oval office, but always has Lauinger Library.

Georgetown’s proximity to the center of the nation’s political scene is often pegged as one of its perks. For a select group of students, however, being part of the action is an everyday occurrence.

According to the White House, at least 21 current students and alumni across all of the university’s campuses and programs have worked for the presidency in some capacity as part of the White House internship program since the start of the Obama administration.

The program draws a wide array of applicants, and Georgetown’s students have had differing reasons for throwing their hat in the ring for a chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at how policy is conducted and meet the nation’s power players.

“My friends know I’ve never been particularly passionate about politics, but I thought the White House internship epitomized everything I love about going to school in D.C. — it’s a rare opportunity to affect and serve our nation,” James Li (MSB ’13), a current intern with the Communications Office in the Office of the Vice President, said in a written response to The Hoya.

Other students were more focused on gaining tangible experience in fields in which they plan on pursuing careers.

“I wanted to gain policy experience at the highest level of government,” Riley Wells (GRD ’11), also a current intern, said in a written response to The Hoya.

The road to working at the highest level of government is a competitive one. Individuals from all across the country apply for these full-time, unpaid internships for each of the three annual work cycles.

While Wells described the application itself as “simple” — students need to respond to application questions, supply a résumé and submit three separate letters of recommendation — there is no set of qualifications that guarantees success. Besides a commitment to service and a demonstration of leadership, a commitment to the mission of the Obama administration is another key component of the selection criteria, according to the program’s website.

Once the application process is over, the experience of working in the White House varies by department.

Wells works in the Gift Office in the Office of Presidential Correspondence.

“Each day, I handle and process the gifts the president receives and send them to their appropriate destination,” Wells said, describing a typical day.

This is no ordinary filing job — Wells is able to see what celebrities, foreign officials and everyday Americans send to the president.

Katelyn Horne (SFS ’12), a former White House intern, who worked in White House Operations but was not associated with the White House internship program, chuckled at the idea of a “typical” day for her.

“It varied day to day,” she said. “I helped to advance and staff [the president] during public events.”

In the West Wing, Horne worked at times near the biggest powerbrokers in the White House. Horne said one of the most valuable aspects of her position was learning how government operates at the highest levels.

“This was an unbelievable experience for a freshman,” she said.

The experience gained during the internship has not been the only positive result for students. The program has been a major résumé boost and led to unique opportunities. Horne, for instance, continued working for the White House after her internship and was able to travel to Guam for two weeks as a part of the presidential advance team during the president’s March 2010 trip to Asia.

Partly through her experiences and contacts at the White House, Horne was able to acquire an internship with U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice and is currently working in the Office of African Affairs in the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

Career opportunities aside, working at the heart of the presidency affords interns once-in-a-lifetime experiences every workday of the week.

“One that sticks out in my mind was watching Marine One (the president’s helicopter) land. Not only was this the first time that I saw the president in person, but it was incredible to wait on the South Lawn (something I’ve only caught glimpses of through the gates) and watch the huge helicopter land,” Li said.

Horne added that she was overwhelmed by how big the Oval Office was the first time she was able to step inside.

While the occasional “star sighting” is not at the core of the job, all of the interns interviewed by The Hoya agreed that their experiences lived up to the hype and were more than worth the time commitment.

Being at the center of the buzzing political atmosphere, the students acknowledged that they sometimes forgot that they were interns. Li recounted one time when the heady company with which they shared the White House’s offices gave them a good-natured reminder.

“Once, I was returning to my office when we were stopped by Secret Service. Suddenly, the president’s aide Reggie Love walked by, followed soon by the president himself, about five feet away from us. Turning and acknowledging us, [Obama] asked, ‘You guys interns?’ Shocked and in awe, we replied that we were. ‘Thought so. You’ve got that intern look.'”

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