Molly Carver (left) and Brendan Gallant (second from left) with other interns and Sen. Mark Begich.
Paul Eldred (center) with the Black Hawk crew after their trip to Akiachak.
Molly Carver (center, in white dress) with nine freshmen U.S. senators.
Willamette Students Intern for U.S. Senator
It is common to find Willamette students working across the street at the Oregon State Capitol, but sometimes they take their political interests to the next level - the national stage.
This summer, three of U.S. Sen. Mark Begich's six interns are Willamette students from Alaska, the state he represents. Molly Carver '10, a history major, and Brendon Gallant '08, MBA'10, who majored in economics, are working in Washington, D.C. Paul Eldred '10, a politics major, is located in Anchorage.
Eldred and Carver recently shared the highlights of their experience.
Q: How did you get the internship?
Eldred: I took a leave of absence during the fall of 2008 to work on Mark Begich's Senate campaign. He was my mayor for five years and I had always been a fan of his. I was a field organizer in charge of my hometown, Eagle River, and was based in Wasilla soon after Gov. Sarah Palin was named as Sen. John McCain's running mate. After the election I supervised the counting of the absentee ballots that eventually put Begich over the edge to win. When I returned to Willamette, I worked with Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt through the legislative internship class. My experience on the campaign and in the Oregon Legislature helped me get hired as a summer intern for Sen. Begich's Anchorage office.
Carver: I contacted the intern coordinator and went through the interview process. Shortly after, I received a fellowship from the Nick Begich Fellowship Intern Fund to pursue research in rural education. The fellowship requires an internship component, so it worked out nicely. I applied for this internship because I wanted the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with formulating public policy, especially as related to education and rural development. I was also curious about working in the Capitol, gaining a better understanding of the legislative process and meeting people involved in national policy making.
Q: What have been your duties as an intern?
Eldred: I am tracking the stimulus money that is allocated to Alaska and the jobs created, developing emergency procedures for all three Alaska offices, investigating inequity in military food stamp eligibility, and interviewing Alaska veterans for the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project. This is in addition to writing letters, answering phones and attending various meetings and events.
Carver: Primarily, I have been helping research health care reform for the senator. I feel fortunate because I haven't been asked to get coffee or make copies; rather, I have been corresponding with constituents and attending hearings for staff members. I also sit in on all the staff meetings with the senator and help staff members prepare him for committee hearings. This experience has been immensely satisfying because I know the work I am doing is helping Alaska.
Q: What have you learned from working for the senator's office?
Eldred: So far I've learned a lot about constituent relations, the day-to-day workings of a Senate office and national politics.
Carver: I have learned how to interact in a professional work environment, how to collaborate with other staff members and how to adapt to a new place.
Q: What has been your most interesting experience this summer?
Eldred: When I was working on the Veterans History Project, I accompanied a brigadier general and state officials to Akiachak, Alaska, a small village near Bethel, and flew in on a Black Hawk helicopter. In Akiachak, I witnessed three Alaska Native veterans receive their honorable discharges and service medals from their time in the Alaska Territorial Guard during World War II. I then interviewed the three men. Two of them spoke only in Yup'ik (their native language) and the third knew some English, but also mostly spoke in Yup'ik. A village member who was the son of one of the recipients translated for me. That was an experience that I will never forget.
Carver: It is a privilege to go to work in the U.S. Senate each morning. This place is full of such intelligent and dedicated individuals, and the staff members in my office are especially committed to their work. Having the opportunity to learn from them is an experience I will always be grateful for. A few highlights included being invited to the White House with two other staff members, and the time we opened our office door to see a few dozen photographers scrambling to take a picture of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as she met with a senator across the hall.
Q: How did your Willamette experience prepare you for this opportunity?
Eldred: The leadership opportunities at Willamette as well as the politics classes I have taken (especially the legislative internship) have given me the experience I need to succeed in my internship. Extracurricular activities such as Greek life and Opening Days also provided an important basis of experience and leadership. Also, the many essays and papers Willamette students endure certainly help with writing in the Senator's office.
Carver: I interned across the street at the Oregon State Legislature, so that provided me with some experience. The ability to communicate effectively - both orally and in writing - is a skill I attribute to my time at Willamette.
Q: How will your internship help you for the future?
Eldred: This internship has given me an opportunity to experience what it's like to work in a U.S. Senate office. Working in a Congressional office is something I am seriously considering in the future. The internship has shown me that this is something I enjoy doing and would like to explore as a career.
Carver: I don't know if I will immediately go into a career in public policy. Nonetheless, many of the skills I have developed here - patience, developing professional relationships, listening, analyzing issues - can all be applied to any job I pursue.