January 5, 2011
Wow! If only I could find the proper words to truly capture my first Princeternship day with the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, DC! It was extremely enlightening (to say the least!) to learn about the different offices of the approximately 4,000 federal employee Department. My Princeternship is specifically with Mr. Massie Ritsch ('98), who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach, housed under the Office of Communications and Outreach. Today, Mr. Ritsch described the Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO) as essentially being the "switchboard" for the Department of Education, serving as the key link between the Department and the public, and ensuring that there are open avenues of communication in both directions. I was extremely fortunate to gain an overall sense of what the Office of Communications and Outreach does, in addition to learning about Mr. Ritsch's role in overlooking the efforts of the Communications and Outreach team - including outreach to the community, schools, parents, education associations, and the business community.
Upon arriving at my Princeternship this morning and being welcomed by a very kind and helpful Special Assistant, I received a full schedule of what I would be participating in during the course of the next few days. It seemed a bit overwhelming at first to look at all the meetings that I would be attending and the different department officials that I would be speaking to, but I simply took a deep breath and jumped right into the game! My day began with a tour of the office, followed by a brief meeting where staff members discussed Arne Duncan's agenda for the upcoming weeks, followed by a briefing about the National Youth Summit - which is coming up later in February. (See photo with Secretary Arne Duncan to the right.)
Today I actually felt like I was wearing several hats, some of which included feeling like a reporter, since I was asking so many questions throughout the day! Beyond feeling like an extremely privileged visitor at the Department of Education, I actually felt like a team member as well, as I was given an overview of a few assignments that I would be doing during my Princeternship. In addition to absorbing as much as I can about the various roles and tasks of the OCO and of the Department of Education in general, I will also be helping out with logistical matters related to the National Youth Summit, as well as preparing some material for an upcoming Blue Ribbon Recognition Program event - which is one of several Department of Education school recognition programs.
Needless to say, it was a very busy day, ranging from having the opportunity to sit in on meetings and briefings, to meeting individually with a few staff members and hearing about their experiences working in the U.S. Department of Education. I am definitely looking forward to what the next few days have in store for me!
January 6, 2011
It was another exhilarating day today, as I had the opportunity to see Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, speak at a "Back-to-School" panel event at Sousa Middle School, which is a DC public school that has shown dramatic improvements in standardized test scores over the past few years. This event was pretty exciting for several reasons, some of which included how it was the first event of the new year where such key officials as the Interim Chancellor of DC Public School, Kaya Henderson, as well as the new DC Mayor, Vincent Gray, came together with Secretary Arne Duncan to publicly address the students, parents, teachers, and several other community members about the recent progress of Sousa Middle School and of the DC public school system in general. Each panelist had the opportunity to speak for a few minutes before opening up the discussion with questions from the audience and later from the media.
It was truly phenomenal to witness the coming together of so many different individuals who are all concerned about the education of the children of DC and of the rest of the country as well. Sure, the key officials and many other individuals who were at the event may certainly have differences in opinion, but it was incredible to see these public figures come together to let the community know about the plans for the remainder of the academic year and beyond. Given my Princeternship with the Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO), I have had the unique opportunity to observe the different dynamics going on, both at the political level (which is very much a key factor at these types of events), and at the community level, thus seeing how it is that the Department of Education reaches out to the public. It is interesting to think about how the Office of Communications and Outreach essentially bridges these two realms together through such efforts as having panels comprised of federal and local officials.
In addition to this main event for the day, I also sat in on a strategy meeting with Mr. Ritsch and several other representatives from a few departmental offices. This meeting allowed me to witness communication efforts at the internal level, in contrast to the communication taking place between the Department of Education and the public. I also continued to work on my National Youth Summit Project, in which I helped draft invitation letters to several senior administration officials to serve as speakers and discussion facilitators at the summit. Later in the afternoon, I was also able to visit the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is also part of the US Department of Education but is located in a different building.
Overall, today I certainly felt a bit more settled and comfortable, in terms of having a clearer understanding of the OCO and its office dynamics. I was not the entirely wide-eyed intern anymore! In any case, I nevertheless felt a bit overwhelmed (in a good way!) with the information overload, as I have been trying to process everything that I have been experiencing thus far. One more day of my Princeternship, and as usual, I am very excited!
January 7, 2011
I cannot believe how quickly these past 3 days have flown by...it truly feels like everything so far has been a dream and that I am going to wake up tomorrow, thinking, "Did all of this really happen?!" It is incredible how time has gone by in the blink of an eye, yet it also feels like I have been at the Department of Education for weeks, rather than days. I guess it seems like I have been here for longer than 3 days just because I feel so comfortable in the office and have established such wonderful relationships with several individuals from the Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO).
Fortunately, I was able to have some downtime today to work on the Blue Ribbon Project that Mr. Ritsch had asked me to help out with. Of the several amazing experiences that I have had during the past few days, I especially enjoyed being assigned a few tasks to complete during my Princeternship. As I mentioned before, my main responsibilities included drafting a invitation letter to senior administration officials about the upcoming National Youth Summit, as well as preparing background information about a charter school that recently received the Department of Education Blue Ribbon Award, which recognizes schools that have made significant increases in state test scores and/or are demonstrating remarkable proficiency levels. Even if my tasks were minor ones (compared to the OCO's larger projects), I nevertheless felt like I made a contribution to the overall efforts of the Department of Education. I am honored that I was given responsibilities to take care of during my short time here at the Department of Education, as the Department trusted me to be a team member and contribute something. And for that, I am truly grateful.
I honestly feel like one of the luckiest people in the whole world, given all of the wonderful experiences of this past week, especially having the opportunity to meet Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and take a photo with him. I even received a signed copy of the photograph, along with a written message from Mr. Duncan himself! I don't think I will ever get over the extreme feeling of being awestruck when I first saw Secretary Duncan in person and took a very quick glance of his office, which is just a couple floors above the Office of Communications and Outreach - where I was for my Princeternship. It is absolutely incredible to meet individuals like Secretary Duncan, who are such influential figures in our country, and who are regular people just like everybody else! And even beyond meeting Secretary Duncan, I am thrilled to have met some of his team of Assistant Secretaries (such as Peter Cunningham) and Deputy Assistant Secretaries (such as Massie Ritsch), who are also key figures in allowing the Department to function smoothly.
Of course, I wish that I could have spent more time with the Department of Education, as three days are nowhere near enough time to fully experience all of the Department's efforts. Given all the time constraints, however, three days certainly allowed for an incredible introduction to this Department, whose primary goal is to ensure that our nation's schools are meeting the needs of all students. I am forever indebted to all of the kind individuals who made me feel welcomed at the U.S. Department of Education and feel like a team member, even if I was only there for a very brief period of time. Thank you, Princeton Office of Career Services, and the United States Department of Education, for providing me with this opportunity to participate in this Princeternship!
(The photo above with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was taken at Sousa Middle School, where Secretary Duncan participated in a panel discussion with DC Mayor: Vincent Gray, Interim Chancellor of DC Public Schools: Kaya Henderson, and the President of the Washington Teachers' Union: Nathan Saunders. Dwan Jordan, the principal of Sousa Middle School, was the discussion facilitator.)