Confessions of a Summer Intern: Passion Equals Action

Sarah & Friends

Well, my amazing and life changing internship has finally come to an end. Overall within my internship at the US Department of Education, I was able to work with many leaders in the field of education, and was thrilled when they placed me on a second team– the Early Learning team. My main supervisor, Jo Anderson, the Senior Advisor to the US Secretary of Education, recommended me to the Early Learning Initiative team due to my undergraduate major in Early Childhood Education. The Early Learning Initiative team works in collaboration with various program offices at ED and other Federal and State agencies.

US Department of Education
US Dept of Education

I was coming in at a very exciting time for Early Learning, they had just received approval to go ahead with drafting the requirements for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, which would provide a total of $500 million to states that eligible through the application process, those that are leading the way in early learning with ambitious and achievable plans for putting into action captivating comprehensive early learning education reform. (More information on the actual grant requirements and process can be found online.)

I was able to sit in on meetings that were led by Jacqueline Jones, the Senior Advisor on Early Learning to the Secretary of Education, Steven Hicks, Special Assistant on Early Learning, Jennifer Tschantz, Early Learning Program Analyst, and Katy Chapman, Confidential Assistant on Early Learning. Although Jacqueline was the Senior Advisor in the group, she was very open to ideas from others as well as myself. She wasn’t like other advisors I had seen in action – you had to personally approve every detail, yet asked others their opinions before she approved something herself.  She knew the staff she was working with on such a personal level, not just their strengths and weaknesses, but how they would react to a certain topic and many times if they were upset or thinking about something else that day. It was a very admirable quality to see in a national leader.

In addition to her team, public opinion was very important to the Department of Education, so we had many mailing and online blog posting opportunities for comments and letters to be submitted for our viewing. My role was to synthesize these comments and figure out the topic for each comment or letter as well for Jacqueline and the others.

US Capital Building

The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge is going to help many young children from hopefully more states than we like to think. In the end it will create models for schools and consistent programs that are positive and create healthy student growth and success that others can duplicate. They hope that this is only the first step in the funding that they will receive for Early Learning. Their leadership is in all the right places. These people have the heart, many of them serving as preschool teachers previously themselves. They are very admirable leaders. I am honored to have been able to work so closely with them and will have the work experiences and skills I have gained for life.

If you are passionate about something, go for it!

Read Sarah’s Internship Journey

  1. Meet Sarah Suter
  2. Washington DC Is a Fantastic Place for an Internship

Other Summer Intern Confessions

Alysondra Milano

Gabby Fenzel

Erin Quist

Confessions of a Summer Intern: Learning about Culture and Office Work

This is the second post from Erin Quist, who is interning abroad with Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre company in London, England. In case you missed it, “meet” Erin in her first post.

During the middle of my internship, the sightseeing really cut down and it was work time.

Almost everyday follows the routine of arriving at 10am/noon, making tea, doing some general maintenance work around the theatre, then around 2 or 3pm making a lunch run for sandwiches. Once lunch is over, I finish any maintenance work and start on office work, usually mailings, make more tea around 4pm, and prepare a light dinner at 5pm. Pre-show prep work – ironing, setting the stage, checking to make sure the lights are all still working, making tea – is next, then usher, do the show, make more tea at the interval (intermission),  post-show, turn off all the lights, start the laundry, clean the place where the audience sits, and leave the theatre around 10:30pm. Then it’s an hour to get home with one bus and two underground trains.

The underground station near my house where I catch the Tube to work everyday.
Heather's Underground Stop

Summer theatre is often one of the most grueling theatre experiences. Often it involves changing from one show to the next in two days or less, including setting up the set, making the lights and sound for the space, and hopefully getting the actors out there once. Upstairs at the Gatehouse functions in the summer much like many theatres do during the rest of the year: run a show, take it down, clean the theatre, set up the new show, and rehearse it in a week or more. It’s much more calm for most of the people involved. But for Charlotte, the office assistant, John, the owner, and me there is still always so much to be done. It is a constant go-go-go during the day.

The stage from up in the booth where I work during the shows.
Heather's View from the Theatre Booth[

I am learning quite a bit, though. Culturally, I have learned that the English really do drink as much tea as you think they do. Americans say ‘thank you’ when they are interacting with people and, when the occasion arises, the English will say ‘cheers’ instead. I’ve started using this one. Polish jokes don’t exist in England. The show we are doing now contains adult themes and I would not recommend it for anyone under 15. Parents bring their children and no one has a problem with it or even bats an eye to see a party of 7 year olds enter the theatre.

One of the main things I have learned about is office work. Never before have I done any sort of office work. Yes, I send letters and I type things up for classes, but here the work is often so tedious I am anxious for the next chance I get to go make tea. Mailing is the worst. I really have a new appreciation for those who can sit around for hours just putting the postage stamps on hundreds of envelopes. Sometimes John will write something up for a magazine and I have to type it up as best I can for him – his handwriting is as bad as a doctor’s. Another thing that is my duty in the office is answering the telephone. Mostly people want to order tickets but sometimes they have questions. There are a few little scripts on the desk for when they ask about directions, the content of the play, run time, or the next few shows Upstairs at the Gatehouse is hosting.

The box office and desk area where I do my office work during the day.
Heather's Desk

All of the office work isn’t terrible, but it’s not the same as when I am set to a project pertaining to the stage and surrounding areas. A step was broken recently and no one was quite sure how to fix it, so they set me on it. With a u-bolt and a thin strip of wood, I was able to get the step fixed. The lights operate on dimmers and I’m not exactly sure how all it works. I just know that when I move certain sliders on the light board, certain lights should come up. Yesterday, there were eight lights that would not come up. It is a normal occurrence for a light to burn out, but eight at once signals a problem. The workload on the dimmer wasn’t enough and another light was necessary to correct the situation. I had no clue about any of this, but John knows a little about lights and together we were able to get everything working in time for the show.

I just have a few more weeks left and I cannot believe how time has flown. The show only has another week left and then we’ve got a magic show, a children’s music school performance, and The Diary of Anne Frank. It will be exciting to see what new challenges these will bring.


Confessions of a Summer Intern: Meet Sarah Suter

Sarah Suter

Sarah Suter will graduate from UW-Whitewater in August 2011 with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She starts graduate school at UW-W in the fall, working towards a master’s degree in Professional Development with an emphasis in Educational Leadership. Sarah is interning with the US Department of Education in the Office of the Secretary. Her main internship advisor is Jo Anderson, Senior Advisor to the US Secretary of Education.

I have been a strong advocate for and minor leader in education since at least high school. My dream and goal for the past two years was to be an intern for the US Department of Education. I didn’t care in what office or what specific projects I’d be working on, just the initial experience would be enough.

Through conferences attended and conversations had, putting my passion for this internship out there for leaders in education to know about, I was able to get connected with my current supervisor at the Department of Education, Jo Anderson. I had no idea when I emailed him for the first time how big of a deal he was. After many email correspondences, a couple of conference calls, and a breakfast in Milwaukee, here I am today in Washington, DC! The vital part of getting the internship that you really want is to make the necessary connections and do what it takes. Don’t settle for less if you’re truly keen on attaining it.

My experience has been more that amazing thus far. My first week was a little hectic in the office with the Department of Education having more interns this summer than ever before along with many big meetings and projects going on. Staff was, however, extremely welcoming and enthusiastic for us to begin. Like any other intern, I was extremely anxious, but SO excited to begin my work.

I am three weeks in and have about five co-supervisors in addition to my main supervisor. I am a part of many different teams within the department, such as Early Learning, Labor Management Collaboration, Investing in Innovation, State News, and more. Much of the work I do is confidential since it is yet to be publicized information. It’s a great feeling when you are a part of these teams and all members treat you as a key component of these teams as well. You are adding very important information to the meetings and the teams work to help move the project/initiation, and essentially the department, forward. After sometimes long days, it’s always rewarding to know that I’m doing my part and giving input to help better the education system for America’s youth.

The Lyndon B. Johnson US Department of Education Building
LBJ US Dept of Education Building

At work!
Sarah at Work

Outside of the working hours, which are generally Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm, I have been keeping very busy! Washington, DC is such a beautiful and energetic city with a wide range of things to do and see.

Sarah with Washington Monument

Sarah Site Seeing

Aside from the hours of site seeing and museum touring, interns in the Office of the Secretary like to get together after work on Thursday evenings for “Intern Bonding.” We pick a different “neighborhood” within DC and go to a random restaurant and relax from the workplace. I have also met many friends at the upperclassman dorm I am living in for summer, George Washington University’s City Hall.

Taking the metro everywhere has been an interesting experience, but I finally have it down! You can get near pretty much anywhere you need to get in DC, and the price isn’t too bad either.

The Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro that I take to work each morning.
Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro

Technology has played a huge factor in keeping in touch back home. Thanks to Skype for being able to talk to over 20 family members one night while they were all at my grandpa’s 77th birthday party!


Sarah proves that you can “stay close” – through technology, but still go far!


Rock the Vote. Intern in Politics.

Last week, the big news story was the mid-term elections. Only if you were living under a rock did you not see, hear, or have a general awareness of the serious campaigning going on leading up to this election. What you likely didn’t see, however, was the power behind many of those campaigns: college student volunteers and interns.

If you are interested in a career in politics or government, there are a few key methods of gaining relevant experience as an undergraduate.

  • Get involved in student government. If you are pursuing a career in politics or government, one excellent way to start diving into the field early in your college career is by getting involved in student government. For one, you can gain actual experience for your resume, especially if you serve in an executive board or, in the case of Whitewater Student Government, a senator position. At the very least, most people would expect to see involvement in student government from anyone looking to get into politics or government work. It’s likely a key item potential internship sites will look for when evaluating applicants’ resumes.
  • Volunteer with a political campaign. As I mentioned in the introduction, many students were involved in the most recent political campaigns. This includes working for local politicians running in state legislative races as well as the bigger campaigns for governor and US House or Senate. I know of several UW-W students who worked with the Scott Walker campaign, both this summer and into the fall semester. During the last presidential election, there were UW-W students working with the local campaign efforts for Barack Obama. Last Wednesday, the day after the election, CNN was already mentioning that campaigns for the 2012 presidential election would be gearing up. There will no doubt be plenty of campaign opportunities on the horizon.
  • When campaigns aren’t in full swing, intern with a elected official. What do you do if it’s not an election year or if there are no campaigns to work on? Look for internships with current elected officials. Paul Ryan, US Congressman serving Wisconsin’s 1st District, gets information to UW-W every year about his internship opportunities. These internships are available locally in his Janesville Constituent Services Center OR with his office in Washington, DC. Governor Jim Doyle has also offered internship opportunities which have been available in his Madison, Milwaukee, and Washington DC offices. I would imagine similar opportunities will be available with Scott Walker when he begins his term as governor. In the case for many of these internships, you can stay close OR go far!

Any of these experiences should provide helpful insight into local, state, and national politics. You can gain some valuable experience without running for office. Of course if you do decide to run for an elected office, the background you gain through student government, volunteering with a campaign, or interning with an elective official will definitely be put to good use!

For more information on internship opportunities in government, public policy, or politics, please see our Field-Specific Programs & Resources page on the UW-W Internships website.

Photo by Beverly & Pack