USF in DC
Writing a big picture, lofty post about my time in the USF in DC program is a tall order — mostly because I want to write about the specifics. I want to write that I got to tour The White House, that I met House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and that I attended briefings around the District and hearings on Capitol Hill. I want to write about how I received amazing support and advice from my internship supervisors and professors, and that the Leo T. McCarthy Center is unparalleled in their dedication to encouraging and mentoring students. However, that is not this post. This post is, instead, an overview of the things I took away from this program, which is knowledge that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
I was an intern in the Center for Policy Analysis and Research at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. I was tasked with conducting research on a policy area that matters to me and is of importance to the Black community. My research centered on the intersection of juvenile justice and school discipline policy: I wrote a literature review of current reports and studies and drafted policy recommendations for future reform. In this research process, I was greatly aided by the internship course I was taking with Robyn Lieberman. She had our class write memorandums every week that mirrored my research and writing process. I’ve had many conversations with students who feel that their college experience has been littered with “useless” classes, and I’m extremely grateful that every single class I took in this program was, and continues to be, incredibly useful. Indeed, every class that I’ve taken at USF up until this point has contributed to my knowledge base and skill set, and I use bits and pieces of each class in my professional and academic lives. I’ve learned that if you simply follow your interests, they will prove useful down the road, even if they don’t seem particularly useful at the time.
On paper, I might not have been the textbook USF in DC participant: I am a Performing Arts and Social Justice (PASJ) major, and most of my jobs prior to working in DC were doing tech work in theaters (the joke here is that I continued to work in theaters while in DC). However, I believe that my PASJ education served me incredibly well in the “real world.” PASJ focuses on collaboration, and in the few instances where I had to work with people I fundamentally disagreed with, I was very grateful for the times I had engaged in inter-disciplinary projects. Furthermore, in PASJ, we learn that artist-activists have an incredible capacity to create work that aims to promote a more humane and just world. By creating socially-engaged, socially-conscious work, artist-activists are engaging in the same discourse, and creating the same spaces for change as dedicated politicians and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). I feel very fortunate that I was able to experience DC through both an artistic and political lens.
When I wrote that “DC is full of endless possibilities” way back in the first week of January, I had absolutely no idea how true that was. I have had so many amazing experiences just because I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone to go to a conference, ask to sit in on a meeting, or simply to send an email. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a result of this program is that you can never get enough advice. Take someone interesting out to coffee, and ask them about more than just how they got from point A to point B, because that isn’t necessarily the most interesting or useful part of the story. Ask them what lessons they learned. Ask them about the moments they’re most proud of. Ask them what problems they look forward to solving. Someone told me that your goal is to find out not how a career mentor “arrived” but how they’re continuing to move forward. Most importantly, take risks. Go to that conference or hearing or briefing, even if you have to go by yourself. To be even more on the nose: apply for that program you’ve been thinking about since freshman year, even if you don’t know anyone else participating and it’s in a city (or country) you’ve never been to. You’ll learn something new, meet interesting people, and if nothing else, you’ll get a cool nametag.