Eliza Mohlie '10
Major: Political Science
Internship: American University Washington Semester, Foreign Policy Seminar Program. Office of Maine Senator Olympia J. Snowe.
Credit/Time: For credit, Fall
How did you find out about your internship?
When the representative from American University came to Hartwick, he spoke to the class I was mentoring. I don’t know if the students in that class were interested in what he had to say, but I was, so I went to the information session. I had no other credit requirements, so it seemed like a good opportunity. The program places a lot of emphasis on making your own connections. I filled out an online form through Senator Snowe’s website.
How would you describe a typical day at your internship?
I commuted into Washington D.C. every morning. I would be on the train from the American University campus by 8:05 a.m. It was a 45-minute commute to the Senate office building. I worked at the front desk.
I would sort the mail and faxes. I answered constituent letters. I would enter constituent comments into the database throughout the day. We kept a record of who wanted a response and who didn’t as well as where they were from. I also did research on an ad hoc basis, usually later in the afternoon. Nothing terribly glamorous, but it let me see how the office worked. I was also trained to give tours of the Capitol.
I answered the phones. We had over 100 calls per day. The phone was literally ringing off the hook every five minutes—this was during the healthcare debates. I had to get used to the fact that some of the people calling would be expressing strong feelings. Happy people don’t usually call in. I was the voice on the other end saying, ‘we hear you, we understand.’
I attended hearings. I found the people in the office gave me a lot of trust—once they saw I was reliable, they treated me like a staff member. I also took a foreign policy seminar three days per week. I met people from all over the world. The American University program opened up so many doors.
Did you complete any special projects?
I did a project on the effects of the healthcare plan. It was a lot of contacting other offices and asking to talk to their legislative assistants. I did little things that legislative assistants didn’t have time to do. My most important job was to be a PR person.
Were there any special challenges?
I definitely learned grace under pressure. You have to be respectful of people’s sincerity even if they aren’t very nice. It’s important to remember you represent the office, not yourself. Being personable, yet not taking what they say personally. The other people in the office were very supportive. Go in knowing you are taking on a very serious responsibility. Also remember that the leadership style is very office dependent. Your experience will be what you make of it and where you are.
What surprised you the most?
I was surprised by the personal nature of the relationship between senators and the people in the office. For example, a person from Greenpeace would come in and know the legislative assistant he or she wanted to talk to. That put a different face on Washington than what I had seen before.
How did the internship influence your future career decisions?
The internship showed me that I do want to be part of politics. I know that I can walk into an office and contribute, even if I’m not an elected official. It made the possibility of doing this in the future less intimidating.
What advice do you have for other students considering a similar internship?
Don’t be afraid to contact people you have ties to. Don’t be afraid to try different things. Nonprofits like the help. You’ll get to do more at a smaller place. It was a really good program. I am interested in working in a government agency. For me, that’s the best way to serve.