• MyChale Cooper

Changing Congress, One (Republican) Intern at a Time

Have you ever dreamed so big that it scared you? Well, my life motto is to make the biggest, most positive impact, in the shortest amount of time possible. What better way to do that than in public service and politics?

This summer, out of over 1,000 applicants, I was selected as one of eighteen individuals to participate in the College to Congress (C2C) program. Not only does C2C help students secure full-time internships on Capitol Hill, they also cover ALL costs associated with the internship, provide development workshops and networking events for students to attend. I found out about College to Congress by accident. I was doing research for a journalism paper regarding the high cost of living and apartment prices for interns in Washington D.C. and stumbled upon their website. After realizing what the program was, I knew I had to apply, however, the final deadline was only FOUR days away. After a grueling week of class projects, school assignments, filling out the application and gathering recommendations, I submitted my entry into the first round. After three difficult rounds and a lot of prayer, I found out that I was accepted into this prestigious program.

College to Congress’s mission is to promote bipartisanship and socio-economic diversity on Capitol Hill. They do this by providing students from across the country with a rare opportunity. Our food, flights, Lyft riders, professional clothing, housing and all other expenses in between were covered. Not only did they take care of cost, we also had a few developmental workshops before arriving in D.C. each week we were there which covered everything from mental health to lobbying to dining etiquette. We also were partnered with three individuals throughout the program to aid us in our time in D.C. First, we were paired with someone who had previously participated in C2C and was of a different political party. Next, we were paired with our bipartisan ally, who we spent the most time with. Finally, we were paired with a professional mentor. I loved all three of the ladies I got to know through this program and truly valued each of the experiences I had with them. My bipartisan ally was an amazing friend and resource throughout the summer. Even though we did not always agree politically, we always able to put those things aside to connect on other levels.

Fun fact: Congressman Palmer is on the Congressional Baseball team!

College to Congress helps students secure congressional internships however, I already knew the person that I wanted to intern for and wanted to make sure that I got it. Back in 2014, Congressman Gary Palmer ran for public office for the first time ever. I worked to help get him elected to Congress as my representative for Alabama’s sixth district. Congressman Palmer now serves as the Republican Policy Chairman and to my knowledge holds the highest level of a republican leadership office than any other Alabama U.S. representative ever. After interviewing with his Chief of Staff, I was able to secure an internship with the office. Normally his D.C. office has two rounds of interns both staying for six weeks. Thankfully they were willing to make an except for me so that I could be in the office for the duration of the nine-week College to Congress program. Congressman Palmer’s staff challenged me to help with policy research, blue booking, capitol tours and so much more. I am eternally grateful for their kindness and hospitality.

Throughout the summer, C2C partnered with another nonprofit organization called The Purple Aisle which also seeks to promote bipartisanship. During our first week of boot camp, the C2C interns were broken up into three bipartisan groups to try and identify and develop solutions to problems we saw regarding higher education.

Toward the end of summer, we hosted a Congressional Ideas Market with The Purple Aisle, Google and Toyota on Capitol Hill. People from across the political spectrum were invited and we had over 100 people in attendance. Upon arrival, guests were given a card and stickers. They were then asked to write an idea or solutions they had on the card that would address a problem with higher education. Cards would fall into one of the following categories: civic tech app, policy solution or community program. After the cards were placed, guests could then vote on the ideas they thought were the best in each round. My idea, “mobile-friendly access for online classes,” ended up winning the civic tech app category. The essence of my idea would make online classes available on mobile devices and tablets in order to increase access to those who do not have rural broadband or those who may not be able to afford a computer at home. By partnering with a variety of private companies and educational institutions to adopt this function, we can increase access to all students, especially non-traditional ones. As long as a student has cell phone data, then they will be able to access their course.

Another event that C2C hosted was a fundraiser called the Summer School Soirée. The winning ideas from the Congressional Ideas Market were featured around the room along with many amazing interactive games and displays. C2C partnered with Rent the Runway to assist the ladies in finding the perfect dress for the evening. Additionally, we created a video which you can check out here! This organization works hard to be able to secure and plan amazing events like this one. Just the summer I also attended another fundraiser for C2C at Toyota and a networking event at the Taiwan Embassy.

Interning in Congress is more than just going to receptions and fundraisers. In D.C. it’s not about what you know but who you know. This is why getting COFFEE is the most important thing you can do. I’m not talking about the actual drink of coffee but rather the art of coffee. It is super important to have as many of these as you can while interning. I had at least one per week. By my final week, I was up to seven! By developing these connections, you are increasing your network to not only find potential opportunities but also friends.

My summer included all of the normal Capitol Hill internship experiences and so much more. I am so grateful for this opportunity and hope that everyone gets to have an amazing summer internship experience during their college career as well. Be sure to make the most of your experiences wherever you are and remember that if your dreams don’t scare you, then they aren’t big enough.

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