For many people across the country, Jan. 14, 2019, marked day 24 of the partial government shutdown. For four Ohio University students, it was the beginning of their semester in D.C.

Those students are the inaugural cohort of OU’s Capital Internship Program, a semester-long experience that allows students to intern on Capitol Hill. The students, along with completing online coursework, will work full-time in the offices of Ohio congresspeople. 

“I’m really excited to be representing Ohio University and hope that my time here can help pave the way for more people like me to get an opportunity that most people never get the chance to do,” said sophomore Krissy Wahlers, one of the participants.

The students spent the first week of the semester acclimating to D.C, as well as learning about the city’s history. Their internships began Jan. 22 – day 32 of the shutdown.

Wahlers, who works in U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s office, said her first week on the job was marked by “a lot of phone calls” regarding the shutdown. Kaptur is a Democrat who represents Ohio’s 9th District (Toledo and surrounding counties).

“Hearing about how the shutdown affected everybody differently was an eye opener for me,” she said.

Senior Max Annable, who is interning with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office, said seeing the effects of the shutdown from inside the Senate “continue to demonstrate to me the importance of a working government.”

The other program participants are interning with Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH 2nd District) and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH 13th District).

Program co-director Sarah Poggione, who also chairs OU’s political science department, said one of the goals of the program is helping students understand “how their own interests and passions intersect with politics.”

By working on Capitol Hill, students also learn more about politics and policymaking.

“This is extremely important not only for students considering careers in government and politics but also in business, education, law, science, technology, health care, and really almost any field because governmental policy and regulation influence society broadly,” Poggione said.

For Wahlers, who is majoring in environmental studies, that learning takes place through helping Kaptur’s staff with research and attending briefings related to environmental policy.

“This is really cool to me because even though this internship is not exclusively ‘environmental,’ I can integrate my interests into the job and make myself an asset to the office because of my experience in the subject,” she said.

For Annable, who is a senior, the program is also potential launching point for a career in public service.

“I hope to develop a greater understanding of how politics work, what the role and responsibilities of senators are and how everyday citizens are affected by government,” he said. “Another hope is to land a job somewhere on the Hill or in D.C.”

This is OU’s second D.C.-based program; the Scripps College of Communication’s Journalism and Visual Communication schools also have a joint program that places students in a variety of media, communications and graphic-design internships around Washington.

Geoffrey Dabelko, the program’s other co-director, said the D.C. programs reflect OU President Duane Nellis’ “increased focus and attention on giving OU students opportunity to learn and succeed in Washington, D.C.”

Dabelko, who also serves as the director of the Voinovich School’s environmental studies program, said the D.C. internships are “reflections of a larger strategy to engage” Ohio University with public service.

Poggione agreed, noting that it’s crucial for OU to have a presence in D.C. to “advocate for higher education generally and here in our state.”

“We serve the people of Ohio and the Appalachian region, so our presence in D.C. can also help bring attention to issues and problems affecting Ohioans and the people of our region,” she said. “It’s important then that our students be part of the process of developing innovative solutions to the challenges facing our country and world.”

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