English Romantic poet John Keats once said, “Nothing ever becomes real ‘til it’s experienced.” His words accurately describe the way that my internship at the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) with Princeton alum, Massie Ritsch ’98, brought to life the complex world of education in the United States. It is not very often that an internship is catered to suit your interests and I am very grateful that Massie and his team were dedicated to exposing me to several different parts of the department.
On the first day, I entered the large building after taking the metro in central DC. I was very excited to pass through security and receive a badge with my name on it. On day one, Massie not only gave me an overview of DOE as a whole, but also inquired about my specific interests so that he could incorporate them into my time in DC.
The second day was by far the most exciting. I helped prepare for an event that was being held at the department. The event, “Journey for Justice,” consisted of several cities speaking about school closures that are occurring in their neighborhoods. Their passion-filled outcries illuminated for me the complexity of education inequality and education reform in America. After learning that the U.S. DOE does not have control over school closures, I found it very moving that our federal officials took the time to learn more about a problem that could not directly resolve. Through this event I was able to see the transparency of the U.S. government as it relates to the Department of Education. DOE is very straightforward and hands-on with teaching citizens about education policy and changes. This event also highlighted for me the severe disconnect between officials and the citizens. It became apparent that people felt as if the federal government did not care, when in all reality the federal government has restricted power when it comes to education. I am very grateful for being able to be a part of the execution of this event and learn more about education across the United States.
The third day consisted of organization around the office. I worked with the several educational materials that the DOE makes available to the public. I was also granted the opportunity to speak with two of the DOE’s Teacher Ambassadors. Teacher Ambassadors are individuals who have taken a year off from teaching in order to act as a liaison between teachers and the Department of Education. Both teachers explained to me what, in their opinions, was the biggest difference between working in the classroom and working in an office on education policy. Their wisdom is much appreciated as I figure out how I want to give back to the world.
Overall, my internship at DOE was an extremely rewarding experience. I now better understand the roles that the federal and state governments play when it comes to education reform. I am very thankful for Massie and everyone at the Department for making this a great Princeternship!