My first day at the United States Department of Education was absolutely amazing. I arrived in the capital not knowing what to expect. Marveling at the landmark government buildings just blocks away, I walked nervously up the steps that lead to the Department. I had no idea that I was going to have the opportunity to see internal government affairs as well as have the opportunity to meet top government officials, all during the hectic time period before the President's State of the Union Address.
Everything moved very quickly that day. The air of excitement surrounding the President's speech was virtually tangible! During that day, a plethora of events were occurring as the Department of Education prepared for Tuesday evening. Mr. Massie Ritsch ('98), my mentor during the Princeternship, brought me to an array of top government meetings within his department. I was given the wonderful opportunity to sit in on a confidential debriefing between top White House officials and the Department of Education's political appointees. I was then whisked away to another important meeting where the department discussed an upcoming international summit for education. I was able to listen as the Department's leaders talked to representatives from all over world about this upcoming event.
The rest of the day proved even more exciting as I had the opportunity to meet, speak to, and take a picture with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan! He was a pretty cool guy. After our brief discussion, I sat in on an amazing talk between the Department's teaching fellows (a select group of the best teachers in the nation) as they discussed pertinent issues in education policy and government implementation of programs.
All in all, the first day was more than I could have ever asked for or expected. Things moved so fast, I barely realized that I'd been in the nation's capital for an entire day. It felt great to watch the President's speech and hear him talk about education reform, knowing that I had just been right in the middle of all the excitement.
Day two proved to be another amazing day at the Department of Education. We had a shortened schedule due to an impending snowstorm, but I had the opportunity to do a lot for the time that I was there. This day, I was actually given some tasks to complete. I wondered how useful I would be, seeing as I had no experience in government affairs. I worked on a letter for the Deputy Secretary of Communications and Outreach, congratulating a school that had just won the Blue Ribbon School Award for academic excellence. Truthfully, I was surprised to see that Mr. Massie actually used the letter that I wrote! It was a very rewarding experience.
I also did some awesome work for the upcoming International Summit on the Teaching Profession. I was given the task to call the offices of top American educational leaders and invite them to the summit. I spoke to the offices of the NAACP, the offices of governors, and the offices of top education-based nonprofit organizations. It was amazing getting the chance to actually work directly for the department and have an instrumental role in setting up the event.
The snow fell relentlessly the night before, blanketing Washington DC. I wondered if my day would be shortened, or worse, if my schedule would be cancelled. Thankfully, that was not the case. A few of my appointments were cut short due to the weather, but I still had a lot to do my last day.
Specifically, I was given the task to conduct research on a legal case in Arizona. Mr. Massie, my mentor, wanted to know more about a recent conflict between Arizona taxpayers and a government program that backed up donations to Student Tuition Organizations. I learned a lot as I compiled the data on this case.
I was also able to meet one-on-one with some surprisingly young political appointees. One thing that I learned at the Department was that a lot of people were very, very, young. I spoke to two recent Harvard graduates who worked on policy for the Department of Education. They described to me in great detail their journeys to becoming political appointees and their passion for the work that they do. It was inspiring to see such young people doing amazing things in the nation's capital!
Even though the Princeternship experience was short, I felt as if I had been there for weeks! I learned so much during this time period and would love to do something like this again. I am inexpressibly thankful for this opportunity and thank Princeton, Mr. Massie Ritsch, his assistant Kim Morton, and the rest of the department for this fantastic opportunity!
This was one of the best experiences of my life! I've learned so much about the government and my perspectives have definitely changed about how the government works. I now see that everything works very fast-paced and is extremely energy-filled. As a freshman, this has helped me to see that I want to continue learning about policy and education reform. This experience has reinforced my desire to further change in my own community and provide resources for the students who are fighting for a better education.
If you're a freshman interested in government, policy, or just education in general, go for this opportunity!