From IWU Magazine, Fall 2008
Behind the Scenes
Student interns get up-close view of politics
while working alongside political superstars.
Story by Rachel Hatch
After working as a student intern for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Sara Froelich ’01 (above)
is now deputy downstate director for Durbin’s office.
With the 2008 presidential election only a few weeks away, the world of politics is
earning an even brighter spotlight than usual. This summer, some Illinois Wesleyan
students took a close look at that spotlight through political internships.
An internship for Illinois State Sen. Bill Brady (R-44th District) offered senior
Dan George many insights. George, a music major, said he is learning that government
has less to do with political wrangling and more to do with understanding the needs
“As an intern for Senator Brady, I am usually the first contact for his constituents,”
said George in an interview last July. “If a resident of the district calls the office
to comment on the quality of the roads, I will see that the message gets to the senator.
If someone stops into the office to advocate for the elderly, I will talk with the
person to make sure his or her needs are met.”
Brady, who is a 1983 IWU graduate, said he has found interns vital in providing another
means of support for constituents. “Our interns assist constituents on a day-to-day
basis with issues and solving their needs,” said Brady, who has also utilized the
research of interns on projects such as enhancing retired teacher pensions and promoting
higher education projects.
This summer, Illinois Wesleyan junior Monica Shah saw not only how political offices
run, but campaigns as well. Shah began the summer as an intern for U.S. Sen. Barack
Obama’s Chicago office, working with day-to-day operations. Later, she interned with
his presidential campaign. “The word ‘excitement’ does not quite cover it,” said Shah.
“It’s amazing to speak with so many people who call in to voice their opinion on different
decisions or acts, and to know that people are not apathetic, and really are concerned
An internship in politics is the first step toward a career in government after graduation,
as Clint W. Sabin can attest. “If you look at the Illinois state capitol, around 90
percent of new staffers are hired from internships,” said Sabin, a 2001 graduate who
once served as an intern coordinator for the Illinois House. “It is a great way for
offices to try people out, and see if they feel comfortable in the job.”
While he attended Wesleyan, Sabin served as an intern for former Illinois Sen. John
Maitland and Illinois Rep. Dan Brady (R-88th District). After graduation, Sabin remained
in government for six years, working for the Illinois House of Representatives, where
he helped to write and interpret legislation on transit issues. That work led to his
current position as manager for legislative and regulatory development for the Regional
Transportation Authority, which oversees transportation in northeastern Illinois,
including the Chicago Transit System, the Metra and Pace.
According to Sabin, interns begin to understand that a government job reaps rewards,
but not in the monetary sense. “People do not go into these types of jobs looking
to get rich. Working in government means knowing you are making a difference, and
having an internship is a chance to learn that lesson,” he said.
Making a difference while working in politics comes from understanding public concerns,
and then translating that into legislation, said 1997 alumna Amy Tenhouse. “You have
to know what is going on,” observed Tenhouse, who analyzes health-care legislation
for the Senate Budget Committee in Washington, D.C. “Being in the thick of things
is an incredible experience. And no matter what you read or see on TV, you can’t have
a real sense of how things are accomplished and how government works until you are
Dan George ’09 (above) spent the summer working for Illinois State Sen. Dan Brady.
Tenhouse believes internships are the best introduction for students, both to the
real world of politics and to the people involved. “There is no better way to make
connections with people than through an internship or fellowship,” she said. “People
in Springfield or on Capitol Hill are happy to help you make contacts, and those contacts
are your greatest strength.” While in school, she had more than one internship, working
with Sen. Bill Brady and then accepted two fellowships — or sponsored internships
— in other state government offices after graduation. Throughout her career, she has
worked for the offices of the Illinois Governor and Lieutenant Governor, as well as
for the offices of former U.S. Rep. Denny Hastert (R-Illinois) and U.S. Rep. Kay Granger
(R-Texas). “There is never an age or a place in your career when an internship or
fellowship cannot take you places,” she said.
Carolyn Hull ’08 is finding her time at Illinois Wesleyan gave her skills she would
use in her career, as did her senior-year internship. “My internship definitely prepared
me for my job. I’m doing the same type of thing I did then, but with more responsibility,
and I get paid,” said Hull, noting the typical political internship goes without pay.
Hull’s internship took her on the road with Obama’s campaign, interning under the
Central Illinois Field Organizer, traveling to Iowa until after the caucuses, then
Wisconsin, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio. After graduation, Hull was hired by the Democratic
Party, and is now working on the Coordinated Campaign. Her job involves helping re-elect
several Democratic candidates, including U.S. Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colorado), for whom
she is developing and implementing a Latino outreach program. “When I was at Illinois
Wesleyan, I participated in the Madrid program, spending a semester studying in Spain,”
said Hull. “I find I’m using the Spanish skills I gained there every day.”
An internship had international implications for 2001 alumna Sara (Nelson) Froelich.
“I never thought I could find global opportunities in Central Illinois,” said Froelich,
who graduated with a double major in political science and international studies.
As a senior at Wesleyan, Froelich served as an intern for U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin
[D-Illinois]. She worked with embassies around the world to help Durbin’s constituents
with international problems. “It was an incredible experience, allowing me to combine
my love of politics and international issues while helping people at the same time.”
During her years at IWU, Froelich also interned for U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, the
Refugee Relocation Division of Catholic Charities and the Minnesota Attorney General’s
Office. After graduation, Froelich was offered a job with Durbin’s office and is currently
the deputy downstate director for the Illinois senator.
While learning how people can influence politics, junior Chris Unger also discovered
how politics is impacting his hometown. The Denver native worked this summer for the
Denver 2008 Host Committee, preparing for the Democratic National Convention. “This
is my second summer working with the committee,” said Unger, an international studies
major. Unger is helping to prepare the city for the influx of conventioneers in August.
“Helping with an event of this magnitude,” he said, “gives me a greater understating
of what it takes to manage a not-for-profit, which is what I would like to do. ” Unger
plans to study social movements and human rights in South America this fall.
Both Sabin and Tenhouse credit Illinois Wesleyan faculty with developing their interest
in politics. For Sabin, Associate Professor of Political Science Greg Shaw helped
draw him toward government close to home. “I took away an understanding of how state
government can directly affect people, and how easy it was to make an impact,” Sabin
said. Political Science Professor Tari Renner helped Tenhouse discover her internship
as an entry to politics.
“You might say working in government is a calling,” said Tenhouse. “I knew I had to
work on Capitol Hill. It was where I needed to be. And the best way for anyone to
get there is through an internship.”