Recognizing the Value of Internships

After my first year of college, I was fortunate enough to score an internship on Capitol Hill, working in the office of a respected veteran senator. For a month, I did everything and anything that was asked of me, as I tried to soak up as much of the experience as possible. For me, each committee hearing, legislative memo, and clip packet were like gifts on Christmas morning.

As part of my internship, I also got the privilege of commuting by train – more than an hour each way – from my parents’ home in West Virginia. It was the only way to make my first internship work financially. Additionally, I spent the rest of the summer, as well as every weekend during my internship month, working at a local restaurant. I was gaining valuable work experience walking the halls of Congress. And I was gaining the dollars necessary to live during college by ringing up buffet dinners for Mountain State families and breaking down the soft-serve ice cream machine nightly.

The following summer, I was fortunate enough to earn an internship in the press office of U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd. That was the summer I retired from my career at Ponderosa Steak House. Senator Byrd was a former Senate Majority Leader and was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. A man who became one of the most powerful leaders in DC, Senator Byrd also believed in an honest day’s pay for a hard day’s work. I interned for Byrd for two summers, getting paid a salary both years.

I continued to take the train in from West Virginia both of those summers, to save money and avoid the cost of DC summer rent, but I was able to spend those summers focused on my future. The train rides became opportunities to read about government and policy. The weekends became a chance to explore possible career paths beyond law school. Those paid internships with Senator Byrd transformed me into the communications and policy professional I would become.

All because of a paycheck attached to an invaluable internship.

Last month, the U.S. Senate appropriated $5 million to provide the resources to pay Senate interns, giving each Senate office about $50,000 a year to compensate the lifeblood of Capitol Hill. The funds will hardly ensure that interns earn anything to close to what those interning on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley may earn, what with some Hill offices employing more than a dozen interns in the summer months alone to share that pot. But it is a start.

It is a start in showing appreciation for those that perform the tasks of Capitol Hill interns, perhaps allowing interns the chance to take one fewer shift as a waiter or bartender in DC and being able to use the time to explore the city they are calling home for the summer. It is a step at wiping away the general DC belief that interns are simply free labor, motivated by their need to find paying jobs after college.

More importantly, though, the move to compensate U.S. Senate interns begins to bring some equity to a system that is far from equitable. For decades, unpaid DC internships largely ensured an intern pool of the wealthy and the well connected. In an institution that is already far whiter than the populace, it ensured that its interns were equally as white. In short, it created a labor pool that looked vastly different from the people it was governing.

If the $50 million paid internship pool allows one more low-income student to pursue a Capitol Hill internship, then it is a worthy investment. If it inspired a new generation to see the value of government service, even if it pays far less than the private sector (both at internships and full-time jobs), then it is a worthy investment. If it means more 19- and 20-year olds don’t have to work two or three jobs during the summer in order to pursue its passions, then it is a worthy investment. And if it inspires other industries – including the media and entertainment sectors – to open their checkbooks and eliminate their own “free summer labor pool,” then it is definitely worth it.

No college student is ever going to get rich working an internship on Capitol Hill. Interns will still spend much of their salaries renting a summer dorm room from a local university or packing into short-term lease apartments. They will continue to live on an all-you-can-eat pizza, salad, and banana pudding buffet (as I did as an intern), supplemented by Capitol Hill reception hors d’oeuvres. And a small monthly check from the U.S. Senate ensures that those who seek such an experience may actually be able to take advantage of it.

(This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)

Immigration and Education

Immigration stories are dominating the headlines these days. Over at the BAM! Radio Network, dear ol Eduflack takes a look at two of the many issues we should consider when it comes to the education aspects of the debate.

Here, we explore whether schools should be working with ICE on determining the citizenship of their students.

And here, we ponder why we aren’t hearing from EdSec Betsy DeVos and the US Department of Education on their obligations to educate those children currently detained at the border.

Give both a listen. Let me know what you think.

Educators as Immigration Agents

We ask a great deal of teachers these days, particularity as we look to move more of the educational decisionmaking away from Washington, DC and into our local communities. But of all we ask of teachers, do we really expect them to start acting as immigration agents? Do we really want them to be ferreting out which students in their classes are undocumented?

And do we want to strip away the classroom as the one place kids can feel safe? Do we want to turn our public schools into a place where youth feel at risk, worried about whether they will see their families again?

We explore the topic on the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen!

“News” Overload Has Left Us Numb

We’ve gone from humble-bragging about our kids and sharing photos of our food to using every waking moment of every day sharing every tweet, every slam, every late night comic diatribe, every propaganda piece, and every doctored photo that seems to support our belief system. And we do so by feeding it into our own echo chambers, sharing with those who already share our beliefs in hopes of strengthening the tribe. No discourse happens. No dialogues are pursued. No debates are engaged. Instead, we are in search of the almighty likes, loves, and supportive comments.

Eduflack’s latest on LinkedIn Pulse, looking at a recent Pew study and how it has affected our political discourse and our social media usage

Federal Subsidies for Teacher Salaries?

If the recent run on teacher work stoppages has taught us anything, it is that there is a growing public commitment to ensure that our educators are better paid for the work they do in the classroom. And as the job of teaching gets more complex, it becomes more and more necessary.

So it is no surprise that Democrats in DC are looking to move legislation to put billions of federal dollars into the pool to boost teacher salaries. It makes great politics, but do we really want the federal government involved in how localities decide salaries and pay scales?

We explore the topic on the most recent episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen!

Streamlining the US Department of Education?

We often say that change is a good thing. Years ago, dear ol’ Eduflack had a boss who believed that did an organization to truly thrive, it needed to be reconceived and reorganized every five years or so.

After more than a year, the education community is still looking for EdSec Betsy a DeVos to take strong action or reveal a strategy for P-20 education in the United States. With DeVos now talking about reorganizing and streamlining operations at USED, are we about to see a peek into that strategy?

Over at the BAM! Radio Network, we explore the subject, asking if a little reorganization every now and then can be a good thing. Give it a listen!