On Dec. 1, 2009, in an evening address to the nation, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the commitment of an additional 30,000 troops to the war effort in Afghanistan. Early the next morning, Brittany Weaver ’10 sat in a small office on C Street in Washington, D.C., not far from the Georgetown metro stop, helping to monitor the reaction of NATO allies around the world to see who would join in the response.
Weaver wasn’t a seasoned diplomat or a foreign policy expert — she was an undergraduate, a UNH senior interning at the U.S. State Department through the Washington Center, a nonprofit organization that connects college students with opportunities to work in the nation’s capital.
“It was surreal to have a security badge that got me into the State Department. Even halfway through my internship, it still felt like a privilege to be there,” says Weaver. “I was directed to keep track of the incoming cables to see what our allies were doing. Everyone around me was pretty low key. I got the feeling this was just another day for them.”
In the spring of 2013, just another day in the New Hampshire State House had Tyler Clark ’13 keeping tabs on House Bill 573, the medical marijuana bill that would become law in July. An intern with UNH’s Concord Internship Program, Clark was tasked with researching the proposed statute, which included a visit to a medical marijuana dispensary in Maine, attending hearings and following the bill’s progress through the Senate and the House.
The 30-year-old internship program places UNH undergraduates from any major in the New Hampshire Senate, House of Representatives, or the Office of the Governor. Students spend the spring semester of their junior or senior year working with senators or representatives, and on a committee. Clark was paired with Sen. David Pierce (D-Lebanon) and UNH English professor Sen. David Watters (D-Dover). He also assisted Sen. John Reagan (R-Deerfield), who
co-sponsored HB 573.
“I learned more from that internship than any book I’ve ever read,” says Clark, today a government affairs associate at Dennehy and Bouley in Concord. “And it wasn’t just about bills. I learned how accessible state government is; New Hampshire is small enough that if someone in Pittsburg has an issue, they can drive two and a half hours and air it out. You can have a voice.”
Since 1998 — the first year enrollment figures were kept — 125 UNH students have interned through the Concord program, gaining first-hand, practical experience on the legislative process that has included upholding the state’s death penalty, allowing guns again in the State House, ratifying same-sex marriage and killing a bill proposed by fourth graders to name the red-tailed hawk the state’s official raptor. An average of seven interns go to Concord each year.
“These student’s aren’t just filing papers... they’re doing everything the legislators do. And they’re being exposed to all different types of people, which is the best education one can get.”
— Tama Andrews
Director of the Concord Internship Program
“These students aren’t just filing papers,” says Tama Andrews, director of the Concord Internship Program. “They’re doing everything the legislators do. And they’re being exposed to all different types of people, which is the best education one can get. They realize very quickly it doesn’t matter what their GPA is, or if they are the top student. It’s how they present themselves.”
Dan Zotos ’14 came to that realization shortly after starting his internship at the State House during his junior year. He served on the Senate energy and natural resources committee and followed Senate Bill 152, which, had it passed, would have allowed casino gambling in New Hampshire.
“It was a fantastic bill to study given the overarching implications it had for the Granite State,” Zotos says, describing the proposed legislation as a vast revenue source for a state that is constantly grappling with budget shortfalls, lack of revenue, crumbling roads and bridges and the brain drain that accompanies college grads leaving for other states.
“I was interacting with high-ranking officials every day. It wasn’t just ‘Hey, kid, go get me a coffee,’” says Zotos, a government affairs advocate with Concord’s Demers and Blaisdell. “The internship definitely hurdled me out of my comfort zone and that was such a confidence-builder. By the time I graduated, I felt really grounded in myself.”
Paula DiNardo, UNH liaison to the Washington Center, says increased confidence is one of the can’t-teach-in-a-classroom byproducts of UNH’s political internships. Other benefits include the range of opportunities students are exposed to — in D.C. there are embassy visits, classes that are aired on C-Span and panel discussions with guest speakers arranged by C-Span producer and political editor Steve Scully.
“Returning students seem to stand a little bit taller. There is this sense that they know where they want to go and how to get there,” DiNardo says. “It’s not surprising. During their internships, they are taught how to prepare themselves professionally. When they meet with ambassadors, guest speakers or members of Congress, they will have done their homework. They will have Googled the speakers, the ambassadors, and know their backgrounds so they can ask thoughtful questions.”
The university began its affiliation with the Washington Center in the 1970s. Since then, more than 700 UNH students have been granted internships in nonprofit, international and private organizations as well as government agencies. Past placements include the Center for the Study of the Presidency, Department of Commerce, Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Turkish American Council and the International Association of Women Judges.
Juniors and seniors from any major are eligible. Students work four days a week and attend required programing that consists of lectures, events and embassy visits. They also take an evening class.
“I knew when I was a freshman that I wanted to do the Washington internship,” says Weaver, who earned a bachelor’s degree at UNH in international affairs and political science in 2010 and a master’s of public administration in 2015. “I’ve had a lot of passion around politics since I was in high school, and I wanted to find my own voice.”
That voice led her to join the UNH College Democrats when she was a freshman, a move that gained her experience with campaigns and fundraising. She later got involved with Gov. Maggie Hassan’s first bid for governor in 2012 and then served on the committee that planned Hassan’s inaugural ball. She is now one of the governor’s policy advisors.
“The Washington Center gives these students such incredible mentoring and networking opportunities and I think that helps them go from interest and passion to action and results,” DiNardo says.
Recent graduates’ experiences would certainly bear that out. After his internship, Clark, a political science major, was hired to work in the Senate clerk’s office at the State House. He started the Monday after commencement. Contacts he made there led to his current job. Weaver graduated and went right to work as campaign manager for Amanda Merrill during her 2010 New Hampshire state senate run. And Taylor Reidy ’14, who attended the Washington Center in 2012 interning in U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s office, now works as a press assistant on the New Hamsphire Republican senator’s communication team.
“The Washington Center was the perfect way to get an idea of what things are really like in Washington,” Reidy says. “I really loved everything about it. It’s because of the internship that I have my current job in Sen. Ayotte's office.”
Fellow Washington Center alum John Greene ’10, an environmental studies and policy major, spent his semester at the Environmental Protection Agency.
“It was fascinating,” he says. “I was an assistant to a science advisor who did a lot around the rules and regulations of naturally occurring asbestos. It was incredible — I was at meetings with the heads of the EPA.”
“The Washington Center gives these students such incredible mentoring and networking opportunities and I think that helps them go from interest and passion to action and results.”
— Paula Dinardo
UNH liaison to the Washington Center
Greene thought that was where he wanted to work, but then he met U.S. Congresswoman Anne Kuster (where/how?).“She was talking about issues that I care about and that got me excited. I was really taken by her,” Greene says. So taken that he quit the consulting job he had lined up in Boston before he even started so he could work for her.
Today, Greene is Kuster’s deputy district director. “The Washington Center internship was instrumental in deciding my future,” he says. “It opened my eyes to all different kinds of issues and the ways I could have an impact.”
Zotos, who grew up watching “Meet the Press” with his father, says his time in Concord shaped his future as well.
“I’d always been fascinated with politics,” Zotos says. “One day at the State House, the chief of staff sat us down and told us that in the classroom, we were only dipping our toes in — that unless we were there seeing the ins and outs of the political process as it happened, we would only learn so much. That internship was the vessel that connected everything. We all watched ‘School House Rock.’ We know how a bill is made. But it’s a whole other thing to witness it happening.”
Originally published in UNH Magazine—Fall 2015 Issue