Playing with the Big Dawgs

Student interns in UGA’s Washington Semester Program get hands-on training in the nation’s capital and a firsthand look at life in Washington D.C.

Since the program began in January, 26 UGA students have gained experience working for U.S. senators and congressmen, government agencies, non-profit organizations and private businesses.

International affairs and finance major Lucas Puente spent this fall semester interning for U.S. Sen. Barack Obama. Among Puente’s assignments was doing research prior to the Senate vote on the $700 billion bailout of the financial service industry. Puente, who personally sought the internship with Obama’s office, had been in Washington for only three weeks when the financial crisis occurred.

“They kind of threw us right into the fire,” Puente says of his internship duties. “I’m glad to be doing more substantive work.”

Five of the 11 fall interns worked for legislators from Georgia, including U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson and U.S. Representatives Jack Kingston, Lynn Westmoreland, John Barrow and John Lewis.

Other students interned with the U.S. State Department, the Washington office of UGA’s Center for International Trade and Security, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Center for American Progress.

For Sharon McCoy, an international affairs and Spanish major, an internship at CAP was an opportunity to build on her knowledge of and interest in Latin America.

One of her assignments was to research oil companies in Mexico and Brazil, where the U.S. gets much of its oil.

“This is my interest area, where I can put my talents to good use,” says McCoy, who is considering work in civil rights or foreign affairs. “But I’m not exactly sure where.”

The program, which operates out of the Office of the Vice President for Instruction, is designed to give any UGA student an opportunity to live and work in Washington. The 20 student enrollment capacity has already been met for spring semester 2009. Over time, program director Don DeMaria hopes to place art and theater students in intern positions in the capital city.

University officials also hope that exposing students to Washington will, over time, build up the representation that UGA has in the U.S. House and Senate and executive offices.

Other schools, such as Cornell, Stanford, and the University of Texas, that have long had year-round programs in Washington tend to have more alumni there representing their school’s and state’s interests, says Griff Doyle, UGA’s director of federal relations.

“This opportunity is a slam dunk for anyone interested in government,” he says. “A high quality, hands-on learning experience in our nation’s capitol appears to be something to which all of the great universities are committed.”