Political Internships a First Step
July 17, 2008
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— With the 2008 presidential election only a few months away, the
world of politics is earning an even brighter spotlight than usual. This summer,
some Illinois Wesleyan University students are getting a close look at that spotlight
through political internships.
Illinois Wesleyan student Dan George studies constituent information during his summer
internship with State Sen. Bill Brady.
An internship for Illinois State Sen. Bill Brady [R-44th District] is offering IWU
senior Dan George insights. George, a music major from Schaumburg, Ill., said he is
learning that government has less to do with political wrangling, and more to do with
understanding the needs of people. “As an intern for Senator Brady, I am usually the
first contact for his constituents,” said George. “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 Illinois Wesleyan graduate, said he has found interns vital for
research as well as 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 utilized the research of interns on projects such as enhancing retired
teacher pensions and promoting higher education projects.
Junior Monica Shah is interning with Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
This summer, Illinois Wesleyan junior Monica Shah is seeing not only how political
offices run, but campaigns as well. Shah began the summer as an intern for U.S. Sen.
Barack Obama’s [D-Illinois] Chicago office, working with day-to-day operations. Now
she is an intern with his presidential campaign. “The word ‘excitement’ does not quite
cover it,” said Shah, who is from Downers Grove, Ill. “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 with issues.”
An internship in politics is the first step toward a career in government after graduation,
as Illinois Wesleyan alumnus 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 Illinois Wesleyan, Sabin served as an intern for former
Illinois Sen. John Maitland [R-44th District] 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.
In the thick of things
Alumna Amy Tenhouse stands with former U.S. Rep. Denny Hastert.
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,” said 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 there.”
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,” said Tenhouse.
“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 accpeted 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.
Alumna Carolyn Hull, a 2008 graduate, 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 the Obama
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 Colorado Democratic Party, and is now working on the Coordinated
Campaign. Her job involves helping with the election of several Democratic candidates,
including Obama and U.S. Rep. Mark Udall [D-Colorado], who is now running for the
Senate. With Udall, Hull 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.”
Making an impact
Alumna Sara Froelich was hired by Sen. Richard Durbin's office after her internship.
An internship for 2001 alumna Sara Nelson Froelich had international implications.
“I never thought I could find global opportunities in Central Illinois,” said Froelich,
who graduated with a double major of political science and international studies.
As a senior at Illinois Wesleyan, Froelich served as an intern for U.S. Sen. Richard
Durbin [D-Illinois]. She worked with embassies around the world to help Sen. 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 time at IWU, Froelich also interned for U.S. Sen. Paul
Wellstone [D-Minnesota], 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 Sen. Durbin.
While learning how people can influence politics, junior Chris Unger also discovered
how politics is impacting his hometown. The Denver native is working 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. “I was born here and have many ties here, so when it was announced
that he convention would be here, I signed up as a volunteer.”
Unger is helping to prepare the city for the influx of conventioneers in August. “This
will be a huge operation, and it is exciting to be on the forefront of it,” said Unger,
who assists with operations, which coordinates with local businesses and events during
the convention. “Helping with an event of this magnitude,” he added, “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
Finding your place
Both Sabin and Tenhouse credit Illinois Wesleyan professors with developing their
interest in politics. For Sabin, 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 of
Shaw’s classes. For Tenhouse, it was Professor of Political Science Tari Renner who
helped her 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.”
Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960