Matthew Kelly ’16, U.S. Department of Education

Matthew-KellyMy Princeternship occurred over a period of three days with alumnus Massie Ritsch ’98, Acting Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach at the federal government’s Department of Education. The function of the Office is both to dispense information to and receive feedback from teachers, parents, foundations, corporations, and the public in general regarding the Department’s policies. The physical site of this Princeternship was the Lyndon Baines Johnson Building in Washington D.C.

Day One:
Mr. Ritsch’s assistant, Vanessa McKinney, familiarized me with the areas of the Department in which I would be working: these included the Office of Communications and Outreach and the Department’s Video Production Office. Shortly after, I attended a meeting between Mr. Ritsch and several other members of the Office of Communications and Outreach; they tasked me with examining the academic prowess of the colleges and universities participating in this year’s men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments. Later, I met with Sambia Shivers-Barclay, Coordinator of Sub-Saharan Affairs and International Visitors at the Office of International Affairs, a separate entity within the Department of Education. Ms. Shivers-Barclay furnished me with excellent information regarding the ways in which our country’s education system interacts with the high-performing systems of other countries.

Day Two:
I continued to compare the academic profiles of the institutions participating in the NCAA basketball tournaments, working with the Office of Communications and Outreach’s graphic designer, Barbara Julius, to convey the information uncovered visually. I also attended two especially interesting meetings: the first occurred between many of the members of the Office of Communications and Outreach, and the second featured a presentation given by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to the entirety of the Department. The Video Production Office also assigned me some basic tasks involving transcription.

Day Three:
At Mr. Ritsch’s request, I conducted some preliminary research on federal policies of interest to the Department. Additionally, I transcribed the dialogue of another of the Department’s video sources. Mr. Ritsch devoted more of his time to answering my questions regarding his work at the Department and in earlier phases of his career; as usual, his answers were instructive and extremely thorough.

I both enjoyed and benefitted from this Princeternship. Kelly 1It greatly improved my understanding of the work done in the Department of Education and in the field of communications. Further, everyone I encountered at the Department was remarkably accommodating of the needs of the most temporary of interns. I would like to thank Barbara Julius, David Whitman, Gillian Cohen-Boyer, Jonathan Schorr, and Vanessa McKinney from the Office of Communications and Outreach, Sambia Shivers-Barclay from the Office of International Affairs, and Paul Wood from the Video Production Office for being so receptive. Of course, I would like to thank Mr. Ritsch for providing Princeton students with this opportunity and for making the opportunity itself so worthwhile.

Hannah Rosenthal ’15, U.S. Department of Education

Hannah-RosenthalMy three-day Princeternship at the U.S. Department of Education was an incredibly rewarding experience.  My host, Massie Ritsch ’98, is the Acting Assistant Secretary in the Office of Communications and Outreach. Mr. Ritsch and his assistant, Vanessa McKinney, prepared a schedule tailored to my interests. I am especially concerned with issues relating to race and the African American community, so I spent a lot of time in the Office for Civil Rights and met with the leaders of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Mr. Ritsch provided me with an invaluable introduction to the responsibilities of offices across the department. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in the Princeternship program!

Day One:
The first thing I noticed upon entering the department was its lively, friendly environment. Even though I stayed for such a short period of time, I felt very welcomed.

My day began at 8:30 am with a Senior Staff Scheduling and Communications meeting. It was eye-opening to hear the leaders in the Office of Communications and Outreach review Secretary Arne Duncan’s schedule and discuss issues of importance to the department in the month of January. My background knowledge from my participation in Students for Education Reform and the Freshman Seminar, “The Dreamkeepers: Education Reform and the Urban Teaching Experience,” benefited me in that I was familiar with much that was discussed, including some of the more “wonky” concepts.

I then sat in on Mr. Ritsch’s meeting with a smaller group of individuals in the Office of Communications and Outreach for their weekly check-in. During the meeting, they touched on the department’s four main themes for President Obama’s second term: early learning, ensuring that the money allotted to K-12 education is used most effectively, Career and Technical Education, and college affordability.

Over lunch, Mr. Ritsch gave me an overview of the Department of Education and what specifically happens within the Office of Communications and Outreach. We talked about his involvement at Princeton, his career path and what led him to the Department of Education, as well as my interests and career goals.

I then met with Andrew Amore, Special Assistant in the Office for Civil Rights. He introduced me to the work that the office does. The Office for Civil Rights has 600 employees and is the second largest office to the Federal Student Aid office. The office focuses 20 percent of its time on policy issues and the other 80 percent on enforcement of Title VI (protection from discrimination based on race), Title IX (protection from discrimination based on sex) and Section 504 (protection from discrimination based on disability status). Mr. Amore told me about how committed President Obama and Secretary Duncan are to the Office for Civil Rights. Before this administration, the office was located in a building outside of the main Department of Education headquarters. I was thrilled to learn about the renewed importance of the office within the department!

Mr. Amore also offered me hands-on experience. Over the course of my Princeternship, I helped to organize the civil rights stakeholder database: a list of 450 individuals, organizations and foundations whose perspectives are important to the work of the office. It was exciting for me to recognize several of the organizations and individuals on the list.

Next, I sat in on a meeting with Mr. Ritsch and the videographers of the “School Days” project, which provides monthly video updates on what is going on in the department. I was not familiar with this aspect of the department’s outreach, so it was neat to hear about how the Department of Education works to share its efforts with the general public.

I ended my day by meeting with Senior Counselor Robert Kim and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy John DiPaolo within the Office for Civil Rights.  They told me more about the office’s law enforcement strategies and the specific cases that they have been involved in. During my meeting with Mr. Kim, I realized that I had heard him speak at the Princeton Prize in Race Relations Symposium the previous spring. It was exciting to reconnect!

Day Two:
My day began with an education policy briefing on ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1956) flexibility, entitled “How ED is Helping States Move Beyond NCLB (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001).” Rosenthal 1The department has offered states the opportunity to apply for flexibility surrounding specific requirements of NCLB “in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive State-developed plans designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.” It was great to be able to learn more about a specific policy and states’ implementation efforts; what I gained from this presentation was useful during the remainder of my Princeternship.

After lunch, I attended a Communications, Policy and Legislative Affairs meeting. It was eye-opening to see officials in the three offices share their ideas and discuss Secretary Duncan’s schedule from different perspectives.

My day ended with an unexpected but exciting encounter with the Secretary himself!  I attended a short speechwriting meeting in Secretary Duncan’s office with one of his assistants and a speechwriter. It was evident from the short amount of time that I spent with Secretary Duncan that he is incredibly dedicated to ensuring that students across the country receive the equal education that they deserve.  I am thrilled to say that I was able to take a picture with him, too!

Day Three:
I began my day with a meeting with Laurie Calvert, the Teacher Liaison. I learned about her outreach to teachers and the work she does to ensure that the voices of teachers are heard in the department. Then, I met with Director of Digital Engagement, Cameron Brenchley. He spoke with me about his job operating the department’s Twitter account and Facebook page, and offered my advice about how to effectively use social media.

Next, I spoke with De’Rell Bonner and Sedika Franklin about the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the new initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. It was exciting for me to hear about the work of the department in ensuring that the needs of the African American community are met. I look forward to seeing the progress of the new initiative! Finally, I met with Sam Ryan, Regional and Youth Outreach Associate to learn more about the department’s youth engagement work. The youth outreach program is new to the department; as a student, I was glad to hear that the government values the student perspective.

I am so thankful to have been able to participate in the Princeternship at the Rosenthal 3Department of Education, as it opened my eyes to education from the government’s perspective and helped me to reaffirm my career goals. Interacting with the leaders in the Department of Education made government service much more tangible for me. It was great to be able to attend meetings in offices that matched my interests and I enjoyed hearing of the variety of backgrounds of those in the department. Some had taught before being appointed to their positions, while others had worked for President Obama’s campaign. Given that I volunteered for the 2012 campaign, I was excited to hear that individuals do not have to follow one specific track to attain a position in the department.

I was not previously familiar with the extent of the department’s outreach; how it shares information with particular communities and ensures that the voices of these communities are heard. I definitely feel that I now have a better understanding of how the department as a whole functions – and a better idea of the career path I want to pursue. I am so grateful to have been able to participate in the Princeternship program. Thank you to Mr. Ritsch and all of the other leaders at the Department of Education for speaking with me about their experiences and to Career Services for providing me with this incredible opportunity.

Update: Hannah informed us that she is now a summer intern in the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education and asked us to share this with readers of her blog.

Brenaea Fairchild ’16, U.S. Department of Education

Brenaea-FlucasEnglish 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!