Junior Karis Churchill interned with the Department of Education on Capitol Hill for twelve weeks this summer where she learned about the inner-workings of bureaucracy and policy development.
LearnPHC sat down with Churchill to discuss her internship experience.
How did you find out about this internship?
I found out about the internship through a family connection, actually. My sister’s boyfriend’s friend told his friend, a Special Assistant at the Department of Education named John Houston, that I was looking for an internship. I was just sitting on my bedroom floor doing homework when I got an email from John Houston saying something like, "Hello, I have an internship for you at the Department of Education. Would you like to apply?" And I thought sure, so I sent off my application, and then I got accepted!
What were some of your primary responsibilities throughout the summer?
I had a few large projects over the course of the summer. One of them was creating a system that political appointees could use to reference mail communication between the department and Congress. That took a lot of time. I organized about three hundred letters into that system and on my last day I presented the system to Diane Jones, the political appointee.
I also help to manage Bob King’s schedule for about a week. He was the incoming head of the Office of Post-secondary Education (pictured with Karis on the right). I was removed from that because it amounted to more than a full-time job and they wanted me to do other things, which I appreciated. But while I was doing that it was a great experience.
I also got to attend Diane Jones' daily huddles with the other political appointees in the office. And that was an incredible experience because I got to watch policy being made live. Before these decisions were announced in the news, I got to see people saying “Oh we’re going to do this for that reason.” The investigation into Texas A&M and Georgetown University were two examples. They both have overseas operations in the Middle East that bring a lot of money back home which raises national security concerns. That came out in the news after we discussed it.
One of my favorite projects near the end of the internship was was managing a team of three people reviewing applications for a Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions (DHSI) grant competition. At least two of them were professors—they were all adult professionals. The applications for five-year projects and the total funding was $24 million. So I got to give deadlines to professors—it felt so good.
How did you end up as manager for that project?
The team was understaffed, and my supervisor heard their cry for help and said that I should ask them if I could fill that role—and it worked out.
Where did you live during the internship?
I actually lived with two of my siblings in Washington, D.C., which meant I got to walk to work every morning with the Capitol on my left and the Washington Monument on my right, just before going to the LBJ building.
What did you learn?
I am a government major and I want to be a lawyer, so it was helpful for me to learn how a bureaucracy works. And I learned that it is way slower than I had imagined. I also learned that often people think that each other are evil when the only problem is miscommunication or that people working from different sets of facts. And there are so many people trying to do good jobs, but other people just don’t see what they see, so they come to different conclusions. And then they think, “Oh, how in the world could they have made that decision?”
Do you have any advice for students looking to intern in similar positions?
I wish I hadn’t tried to get anything done the first week. At least at the Department of Education, the office culture is pretty slow, and people recognize that there will be a lot of obstacles to getting things done including technological obstacles or the approval processes, so understand that the first week. Just recognize you’re probably not going to get anything done. So I wish I would have just relaxed and met people and tried to wrestle with my computer without getting stressed about it. I wish I would have taken more time, in the beginning, to get to know people.
What are your plans for the foreseeable future?
After graduating from Patrick Henry College, I’m planning to take a gap year, work for that year, and then go to law school. And then I’ll go to the highest-ranking law school that will accept me.
Learn all about Patrick Henry College internships here.
Patrick Henry College exists to glorify God by challenging the status quo in higher education, lifting high both faith and reason within a rigorous academic environment; thereby preserving for posterity the ideals behind the "noble experiment in ordered liberty" that is the foundation of America.