Among college students eager to start internships at the beginning of the summer was a group of 16 Wellesley students participating in Wellesley’s annual Washington Internship Program.
The Wellesley College Washington Internship Program, supported by the gifts of alumnae and friends of the College, provides funding for a ten-week summer internship in Washington, D.C. Accepted students choose from a large range of workplaces including government offices, public-interest groups, media and cultural institutions, scientific and medical institutes, and research groups. At the time of the program, participants have all just finished junior year but otherwise vary in their work interests and academic majors.
“Many former interns report that being in [Wellesley in Washington] shaped their aspirations and so changed the course of their lives,” Professor Hahrie Han said. Han, who teaches in the political science department helps to organize the program each year.
The program has even influenced some students like Celeste Zumwalt ’15 to attend Wellesley.
“I first heard about the program when I was looking at colleges my senior year of high school. One of the alumna in the area had participated in the program in the 80’s, and her stories and experiences from her summer played a role in my decision to apply to Wellesley,” Zumwalt said.
As part of the program, Zumwalt worked for Fintrac, an agri-business consulting firm, on a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) food security initiative called Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation. In this capacity, she managed an initiative to develop Fintrac’s database on ongoing food security initiatives worldwide. She also conducted interviews with USAID mission representatives and smallholder farmers and attended USAID seminars.
Internships in the 2014 program covered a wide cross-section of offices and work experiences. Some, like Hadley Chase ’15, who interned as a research assistant at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Office of Women’s Health, worked in public policy, while others, like Rebecca George ’15, who worked with the economics team of one of the offices in the U.S. Department of State, chose to work in foreign affairs. Other internship placements in 2014 ranged from the U.S. Department of Labor to Washington D.C. Public Schools to the Smithsonian Institution.
The program came to conception in the winter of 1942-43 during the Second World War when the College closed in an effort to save fuel. Julia Henderson, professor of public administration in the department of political science, placed some of her students in unpaid internships located in Washington, D.C. Professor Henderson introduced weekly seminars into the program, which at first related interns’ experiences to their coursework. These seminars later evolved into a panel of guest speakers talking about their respective groups or administrations in an effort to give interns a wide exposure to many aspects of American politics.
The program has maintained its weekly seminars and other activities throughout the summer. Opportunities to network and learn about working in D.C. included a consulting panel, a legal panel, and other events hosted by the Wellesley Washington Club.
“We sought to organize speakers relevant in categories of interest. Events included happy hour with young alumnae in the area and a public interest panel,” said George, who helped put together the 2014 program of speakers.
“We had a fantastic seminar about Wellesley women on the Hill with young alumnae who were working on the Hill. The Hill wasn’t something that I had considered before, but they made me interested in it. These women were some of the most passionate people I have ever met; you have to be to do that work,” Chase said.
A large part of the program relies on contacts with Wellesley alumnae, who provide mentorship to the student interns. The program has produced many accomplished alumnae, including Hillary Clinton ’69 who interned for the House Republicans in 1968 and film writer and director Nora Ephron ’62 who interned with the Kennedy administration. The mentorship program, in which an intern is paired with an alum based on career goals and interests, is one of the greatest strengths of the program. Interactions with alumnae included lunch at the World Bank with Wellesley graduates working in operations, education strategy and consulting.
“I discovered how strong and supportive the Wellesley network is this summer. Not only did alumnae provide great career advice, they also went out of their way to make sure the interns had everything such as supplying cooking supplies,” Zumwalt said.
Chase agreed and added that seeing alumnae in their careers helped reassure her about her own.
“All the alumnae had gone through so many different jobs and had changed careers multiple times, which made me calmer about my future,” Chase said.
Stipends were provided to cover living costs, and housing was offered at George Washington University, whose proximity to downtown Washington, D.C. allowed interns many opportunities to learn about and explore the city. Activities included Survive D.C., a large, annual scavenger hunt throughout the city, concerts at the Kennedy Center, Jazz in the Garden at the National Gallery of Art and visits to the museums in the National Mall.
Zumwalt found herself spending the weekends exploring the large restaurant scene in D.C.
“D.C. is huge on brunch culture, so every weekend I had plans trying out different brunch spots. One of my favorite spots was Ted Bulletin’s, where they make their own pop-tarts from scratch,” she mentioned.
For Chase, the most important part of the program was being with the other Wellesley students.
“We took over the floor of a [George Washington University] dorm. It felt like being back in the Wellesley dorms. I’m still close with so many of the girls. It’s funny because you think Wellesley’s such a small school, but I had never met anyone in the program before. They are still some of my best friends,” Chase said. “The other girls were such a good resource. I couldn’t have done sixteen internships by myself, but I got to learn about working in places like the State Department and the National Institutes of Health from the other girls in the program.”
George also valued the opportunity to interact with the people around her.
“Everyone in D.C. is so willing to talk about themselves and give guidance and advice,” George said. “I reached out to people in high-powered positions who I didn’t think would respond and they did. It’s interesting to think that we could someday become these people and reach out to young students when we’re older.”