Story by Mari-Alice Jasper, News Editor.
As the summer heat of June burned on, Alex Englen, senior from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, packed her bags and headed north to Washington, D.C. to spend six weeks on Capitol Hill as an unpaid intern with the office of U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield.
Being an intern with Whitfield’s office, Englen spent much of her summer working with constituencies, or residents, to answer their questions and help them understand how Whitfield was planning to vote on different issues. A constituent is a person that votes in a U.S. representative’s congressional district.
“If I got a call about a bill, I would then research the bill, find out what was going on, look up past bills that we have written on and look at past legislation that has been written,” she said. “From that information I would then write a letter back to the constituent stating how Whitfield would vote.”
Other times, residents called in to let Whitfield know how they thought he should vote. Englen said each interaction with a resident was filed for Whitfield to look at.
“I really liked working with constituencies one on one,” she said. “I liked hearing them voicing their opinions.”
Whitfield, a member of the Republican Party, has represented the first congressional district for the past 20 years. His district encompasses most of Western Kentucky, including Hopkinsville, Madisonville, Paducah and Murray. He represents more than 673,000 residents.
Englen, one of three students selected for the internship, said completing the online application was very simple and she saw the internship as an opportunity to discover what she wanted to do with her life.
“The semester before the internship I sat down with my mom and I just told her I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted it to be something in political communication,” she said. “She suggested an internship because it looks good on a resume.”
With just her senior year of school left, Englen said she thought having an internship the summer before graduating would be the most beneficial to her.
“I thought it would really be great for me to intern the summer before graduating because the experience would be more fresh in my mind once I hit the job market,” she said.
Just a few weeks after applying, she heard back from Whitfield and from that moment on, her summer plans started to fall into place.
Accepting the internship came with a few obstacles including housing. Englen said the internship was unpaid and they also didn’t provide any type of housing assistance. Through a network of old family friends cultivated from being part of an Army family, Englen was able to find someone to live with for a few weeks.
Over the years Englen and her family have been stationed in Colorado, Kentucky, Tennessee and overseas.
“This was the first time I had ever been to D.C. though,” she said. “So I just kind of packed my bags and jumped in feet first.”
As an intern, Englen was given the privilege to attend as many briefings and hearings as she wanted to and she was able to meet other U.S. representatives from Kentucky. She also met Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.
She said being able to sit in on a briefing held by Secretary of State John Kerry, in regards to the Iran Nuclear Deal was her favorite thing that happened during her internship.
Even though she arrived at the briefing hours early, the line to enter was still a mile long. Englen said she wanted to attend the briefing mostly because of her interest in international relations and politics.
Most of the time though, she focused on learning the fundamentals of writing a bill and the basic process of getting one passed.
“It was so much fun going to the house floor, figuring it out and being there in the commotion,” she said. “People are always moving around there. There’s no down time. There’s no sitting on your butt. There’s always something to do.”
She didn’t just spend her time in D.C. on Capitol Hill. Even though Englen clocked in more than 10 hours per day at the office during the week, she still found the time to get out and navigate the city.
“I would change into some shorts in the bathroom at work, then I would just go out and explore D.C.,” she said. “I did that everyday I could.”
Englen said although it was some of the hardest work she has done, she would still recommend the internship to anyone who is interested in learning more about the political process.
“There’s no class I’ve attended or book that I’ve read that taught me more than the six weeks that I spent in D.C.,” she said. “You’re in it. You’re doing it. That’s the best way to learn it.”