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Senate internship leads student on ‘path to employment’

by Jennifer Johnson,

Chris Brown

When Chris Brown BA’23 traveled to Washington, D.C., for an internship with Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), he was entering what some refer to as “the path to employment.” 

Last summer, the Ketchikan native became involved with the legislative process, working on issues that have become increasingly important to him — energy, the environment, and policy affecting Alaska Natives. 

Chris Brown and Dan Sullivan
Brown sits next to Sen. Dan Sullivan (left) and near Chief of Staff Larry Burton (far right). Photos provided by Sullivan's office. 

For many interns, internships like these lead to junior staff roles in Sullivan’s office. Brown hopes he can be among them. “I’m definitely going to look into that and heading back to D.C.” after graduation, he said. 

He would be returning to familiar territory. Four years ago, he spent a summer in the office of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski JD’85 to participate in the only congressional internship available to high school students — an effort by Murkowski to continue the legacy of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), for whom she was a high school intern. 

The experience not only gave Brown a taste of political life, it confirmed the direction of his career. After Murkowski’s internship, he completed another internship with the Oregon House Republican Caucus then a six month session with Rep. Mark Owens (R-Crane), who had him work on renewable energy challenges like adjustments to Oregon’s renewable portfolio standard and listened to his opinion on emerging bills.   

Brown gained more practical experience as Sullivan’s intern. He made connections with staff members, sat in on weekly Senate meetings and got to be a fly on the wall during discussions with Alaska ambassadors and Native American leaders. He even worked on a bill awarding tax credits to non-Alaska Natives who returned Native cultural objects they owned — a meaningful opportunity, as Brown had become interested in these issues after being raised in Ketchikan’s rich Native culture. 

Chris Brown gives tour
Brown leads a tour for interns.

Even small tasks in Sullvan’s office gave interns uncommon authority. Answering calls from constituents required Brown lend a sympathetic ear — sometimes only to hear a lot of yelling — but he learned what issues animate voters the most, especially during big news cycles, he said. In his first week, the Uvalde school shooting occurred and Sullivan’s office was flooded with calls. 

One of his most surprising experiences was observing how senators interact. “It wasn’t nearly as contentious or politicized as you’d expect,” he said. “It was cool seeing Sullivan with his friends on the Democratic side. They might take jabs at each other in a meeting, but behind the scenes, they’re joking with each other and really friendly.” 

An economics major and art minor, Brown is preparing for his final semester at Willamette University and plans to pursue a career in environmental law. For students considering political internships, he has some advice. 

“There are more opportunities on the Hill than it might seem,” he said. “Every time I’ve applied, there’s always a voice inside asking, ‘Am I going to get this?’ But just go for it — it’s definitely worth it.” 

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