Tales of Two Capitols: Students Intern in Power Centers

Posted: June 7, 2010 at 1:04 am, Last Updated: June 3, 2010 at 3:47 pm

By Rashad Mulla and Robin Herron

Many students who have an interest in public sector work are particularly drawn to Mason because of its proximity to the nation’s capital and the exciting opportunities for internships in government or nonprofit organizations nearby.

Occasionally, students look a bit farther afield for opportunities, and Mason can accommodate those as well. Following are profiles of two students who added an internship to their educational portfolio – in two different capital cities.

Learning About the Inner Workings of a State Legislature

Aisha Toor in the Virginia House of Delegates Chamber with Del. Rosalyn R. Dance, 63rd District. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Aisha Toor has known since high school that she wanted to get more involved in politics.

Toor, a senior with a double major in philosophy and international politics, spent the spring semester interning 100 miles south of Mason in Richmond, Va.

As an intern on Del. Rosalyn R. Dance’s staff, Toor assisted in the office, accompanied the legislative aide, attended committee meetings and interacted with many constituents, lobbyists and organizations and responded to their various concerns.

Taking classes at Virginia Commonwealth University during the semester while she was in Richmond, Toor was able to transfer 15 credits back to Mason. While the Virginia General Assembly session concluded in March – and with it, many of Toor’s job-related responsibilities – she participated in political seminars and took classes.

“People tend to focus on federal policies rather than the local legislative agenda,” she says. “State policies have a greater affect on us.” She adds, “I am really interested in the inner workings of one of the nation’s oldest legislatures.”

Toor says she learned a lot about different issues concerning the state, including budget issues plaguing colleges and universities. She even saw Mason President Alan Merten when he visited the Capitol of Virginia to discuss the school’s financial situation with legislators.

Voting on bills, she says, was also quite a spectacle to behold.

“When the time came to vote on a bill, legislation that seemed lucid oftentimes created controversy amongst the delegates,” Toor says. “There are many factors involved in the voting process: who is proposing the bill, the cost of the bill, party allegiance, the impact of the bill and the connections and relationships with [the U.S.] Congress.”

In high school, Toor interned for Fairfax County government, where she got her first glimpse into local politics. Now she wants to take a long look at a career in politics.

“I don’t necessarily want to be a politician,” she says. “But I want to be aware of the policies that affect me and my fellow Virginians.”

Marketing U.S. Capitol History

While working for the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, Christina Begley encountered a familiar face at Madame Tussauds. Photo courtesy of USCHS

While Christina Begley, who graduated in May with a BS in marketing, acknowledges she is not a morning person, she was always glad to arrive at her internship job at the U.S. Capitol Historical Society (USCHS).

“Interning across the street from the Hart Senate Office Building and a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol, surrounded by 200 years of history, is amazing,” she says.

Her internship enabled her to apply the skills she learned as a Mason marketing major and learn new ones that she can apply in the workforce, she says.

“This internship has given me a whole new perspective of the Capitol and the workings that go on there each and every day. Did you know that the first Capitol building took 37 years to complete? This is just one of the many facts that I learned from touring the Capitol building with the USCHS’s tour guide.”

Going in to the internship, Begley says she expected to sit in a cubicle and do desk work every day. But the job proved to be much more active.

“As an intern, I have taken tours of the Capitol, sat in on press conferences with senators, regularly attended lectures at the Capitol Visitors Center and at Ketchum Hall in the Veterans of Foreign Wars building and visited Madame Tussauds.”

Begley was also thrilled to have a one-on-one meeting with her Pennsylvania Congressman, Bill Shuster.

Begley visited her Pennsylvania congressman, Bill Shuster, while she was on Capitol Hill. Photo courtesy of USCHS

“Seeing as we are both from the same town we had much to talk about. Meeting a government official that was representing my hometown in the nation’s capital was exhilarating and beneficial,” Begley says.

However, as a marketing intern at the society, Begley’s major goal was to teach the public about the history and heritage of the U.S. Capitol building, its institutions and the people who have served there. She says, “I was always looking for innovative and creative ways to efficiently market the Capitol to people nationally.”

During her semester at USCHS, Begley worked with other interns to broaden the society’s member base and target a younger generation through social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Begley’s final assignment for the society was working on an exclusive tour for celebrities, including sports figures and ambassadors to the United States.

Special thanks to Del. Rosalyn R. Dance and Mary M. Hughes, director of marketing for the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, for their cooperation and assistance with this article.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu