My first day at the U.S. Department of Education was fantastic! Although I have visited Washington, D.C. in the past, nothing compared to the feeling of being amongst the numerous government employees bustling off to various agencies and having the sense of being one of them. When I first arrived at the Department of Education building, I was really nervous, not knowing fully what to expect. My nerves were soon calmed, however, as I was warmly greeted in the main lobby by a very nice and welcoming Secretary Assistant named Jackie. After giving me a mini tour of the main office area, Jackie introduced me to Mr. Massie Ritsch ‘98, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach and my Princeternship alumni host. For the first part of the day, Mr. Ritsch gave me an overview of his department, the Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO), describing it as the key line of communication between the Department of Education and the public sphere. To ensure mutual communication between the Department and the public, Mr. Ritsch and his OCO team sponsor/coordinate various conferences and Department outreach events throughout the year for community members, education associations, parents, students, etc.
I was excited to learn that I would have the opportunity to help out with one of such outreach events. Mr. Ritsch introduced me to Ms. Jasper, one of the OCO staff members charged with Family Engagement/Parent Outreach initiatives. In order to help with the Department’s upcoming outreach event to promote the active role of father participation in a child’s educational development, I entered the names and email addresses of potential participants and cosponsors into a spreadsheet. In addition, Ms. Jasper also asked me to research various studies that highlighted the benefits of having active parents, particularly fathers, involved in the education process of their children. I really enjoyed doing this research because it allowed me to use the skills I’ve learned here at Princeton while also giving me an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to some of the Department of Education’s upcoming events.
Day two at the Department of Education proved to be just as great as the first. My day began by accompanying Mr. Ritsch to his first two meetings of the day. At the first meeting, I was able to listen in as several OCO members discussed the Department’s upcoming College Affordability Listening Tour scheduled to stop at various college and high school campuses throughout the country. Given the significance of college affordability in my own experience, I really appreciated being able to sit in on this meeting and learn how the Department of Education works to keep the public informed about the recent developments and opportunities for federal funding when it comes to higher education. The second meeting I attended with Mr. Ritsch was the Outreach Team Meeting during which I got a brief overview of all the different events and projects that were currently underway at the Department. I really enjoyed being able to sit in on this meeting because it gave me an opportunity to really see just how multi-faceted the operations of the Department of Education truly are.
In addition to these larger group meetings, I also met one-on-one with several other individuals who worked in different areas of the Department of Education. I spoke with Dr. Grimstead, Manager of the Presidential Scholars Program, a program that awards and celebrates a limited number of extremely exceptional high school students each year. During my discussion with her, Dr. Grimstead told me about her own personal journey of coming to work at the Department of Education and provided me with some really good advice on how a graduate degree can be utilized within various areas of the Department. As I am beginning to plot my own future plans, talking with Dr. Grimstead provided me with a greater perspective on the benefits and drawbacks of going straight to graduate school after graduation versus gaining actual working experience in the field of education first through internships and fellowships (many of which can be provided by the Department of Education, as was Dr. Grimstead’s experience).
The third and final day of my Princeternship at the Department of Education was really jam-packed. I started my day by finishing up the spreadsheet of names and emails of potential participants and cosponsors for the Department’s upcoming outreach event to promote the active role of father participation in childhood education for Ms. Jasper. Afterwards, I presented her with the bit of research that I was able to find on the subject. Next, I attended a one-on-one meeting with Ms. Chong, the Coordinator of Middle Eastern and North African Affairs in the International Affairs office of the Department of Education. As I talked with Ms. Chong, I was fascinated by how her experiences living and working abroad in Morocco led her to her current position at the Department. She also told me about a recent summit she helped to coordinate in which the Department hosted representatives from twenty different countries who came together to discuss/compare their various education systems, from teacher preparation to curriculum plans. I learned so much from my discussion with Ms. Chong, particularly about how the Department of Education has so many opportunities for those individuals who are interested in comparative educational policies across cultures and countries.
After my meeting with Ms. Chong, I then met with Ms. Watkins-Foote, the Director of African American Communications and Outreach. She and I had a really great talk as she told me about the different positions she had held within the Department prior to arriving at the OCO. She let me know of all the flexibility there is within the Department of Education as well as connecting me with some great contact people that could help me with my own academic/career interests regarding educational stratification amongst African American students. Next on my agenda was a phone conference call with Mr. Michel, the Senior Advisor for Economic Growth and Trade for US Agency for International Development (USAID). Given my summer study abroad to Tanzania this past year, Mr. Michel and I were able to compare our experiences in Tanzania with one another. He also informed me about some of the ongoing missions happening within Eastern Africa and gave me some great information about potential internships in Tanzania and Kenya with USAID for this upcoming summer.
All in all, I was very pleased with my Princeternship experience at the U.S. Department of Education. Everyone at the Department made me feel very welcome and was more than willing to sit down and talk with me and answer any questions I had. Anyone who is interested in the plethora of opportunities that can come from working for the federal government should definitely consider this Princeternship.