"So, What Are You Doing on the Hill?"
Fall 2016 Cornerstone Intern, Michelle Bowling
December 21, 2016
It’s freshman year of college. You’re surrounded by new young adults from all over the country with different life stories and backgrounds. You dive into college clubs, fraternities and sororities, sports teams and social hierarchies. You later compete amongst each other for the best grades, the best circle of friends, and the greatest chance of post-graduation success. In the end, however, while you are striving for individual goals within this university, you know you are among a group of students working towards a common goal – to represent your college well and also create a path for a successful future. This description fits my experience at the University of Dayton, but it also applies to another experience: interning on Capitol Hill. Your first internship experience is the new “freshman year”, the clubs and fraternities are the House, the Senate, the different agencies, the political parties. On Capitol Hill, despite party differences and various chambers and institutions, we all strive for one thing: to represent our nation and build a successful future. Like the journey we start our freshman year of college, many people on Capitol Hill start their journey through an internship.
“So, what are you doing on the Hill?” Simple question – many answers. “Hillterns” as they are often called, have an entry experience arguably unlike any other field of work. You are living and working in a city steeped in American history. Our places of work are historical landmarks and internationally recognized institutions that people travel from far and wide to see. You walk the very same paths, stairs, and hallways that some of our original founders walked. You are contributing to the same institutions that have been around since the dawn of our nation – and that makes for an exceptional city.
As an outsider looking in, it is easy to feel removed from those who work on the Hill. It’s comparable to how we view celebrities and Hollywood – a part of many citizens’ everyday lives, yet a whole other world to which many of us never expect to have access. An opportunity to intern on Capitol Hill gives you that access and exposure that most people will never have.
There is undoubtedly an entire culture surrounding Washington D.C. that many will never know exists; a culture very different from the one we see on TV. There is genuine camaraderie, integrity, and passion within every office for whom I’ve had the chance to work. The majority of people who come to the Hill to intern aren’t drawn here for a glamorous lifestyle or a high salary; they are attracted to the Hill because they have a passion to serve the public in some capacity, and they are prepared to put in a great amount of work to do so.
When I was given access to the political arena of D.C. through internships, many pre-conceived notions I once held about the town dissipated. The public figures from whom I once felt removed were now humanized. I found that D.C. is made up of so many people who genuinely lead regular lives like most of the Americans from the very states they represent. I found the oftentimes taciturn or distant images of our public figures quickly melted away when I was able to observe and engage in the hard work these people do.
I had interned in a Senator’s office, then a committee office, and then was afforded an opportunity to intern at a lobbying firm in the fall of 2016 – Cornerstone Government Affairs. My internship at Cornerstone brought my Hill experience full-circle. I had seen the congressional side, and now I was able to get a perspective from the private-sector. During my internship I saw why lobbyists and government affairs professionals are a vital, important part to the every-day functions of Capitol Hill. I felt like I became a mini-expert on topics and issues that I would have never otherwise explored if I wasn’t interning for such a dynamic firm. I found myself becoming a student all over again, learning about everything from advanced engines for defense aircraft to the future of counterterrorism strategy, from protection of Native American cultural items to Cuba’s role in the U.S. farm economy. There are not many places that offer you the chance to become savvy on an array of issues facing our nation. It is places like Cornerstone that make you realize political science and similar majors are not courses of study best learned in the classroom. Seeing the circle of life of the Hill – from congressional offices to committee offices to government affairs offices – is the true science of politics. It’s a science that is created, dismantled, and fought for every day. And in such a transient, ever-shifting field, Cornerstone Government Affairs reminded me of how important it is to work among a group of people who truly function as a team.