Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Student Enjoys White House Internship

Edited by Paul Nowell

UNC Charlotte student Michael Higgins recently completed an internship through The Washington Center working as a student volunteer in the Office of Presidential Correspondence in Washington D.C. He took some time from his duties in November to describe his experiences with Media Relations Manager Paul Nowell:

Tell us about yourself and why you decided to attend UNC Charlotte.
Michael Higgins at the White House
“I am a 22 year-old undergraduate planning to graduate in May 2014 with a B.A. in political science, a B.S. in economics, and a minor in Islamic studies concentrated in Mideast and South Asian affairs.  My studies are geared towards a future career in policy and/or government affairs.  Being from Raleigh, most people might expect that I attended State, Duke, or Chapel Hill, but I never found myself inclined to attend any of those schools.  I was so impressed with Charlotte’s state of the art campus and facilities that I made a pretty quick decision about where I would study after I graduated high school.  It was a smart move.  My curriculum overlapped enough for me to get two degrees and a minor in just four years and I was awarded the opportunity to work in our nation’s capital.”

·         Did you do anything at the Democratic National Convention when it came to Charlotte in 2012?
“I wish I had.  At the time I was apathetic toward the upcoming Presidential Election, so I failed to get on board with volunteer opportunities at the DNC.  I regret that now.  After watching President Obama speak I realized how important this particular election would be, so I registered to vote for the first time and watched every single debate.  The issues brought to the table were so compelling that I became more interested than ever to explore opportunities to work for the Executive.”

·       Tell me about the job at the White House.
“After gaining acceptance to the Washington Center, I adamantly pursued a chance to volunteer for the White House.  A representative from headquarters forwarded me information about student volunteer opportunities in the Office of Presidential Correspondence (OPC) and I applied without hesitation.  The student volunteer program I participate in is offered by OPC and is separate from the White House Internship Program.”

·       What is a typical day like?
“I primarily help sort letters addressed to President Obama, Vice President Biden, the First Lady, and White House Staff.  I also answer calls from constituents who have policy concerns and submit their comments to the Executive Office of the President.  The most rewarding part of my experience was being exposed to various issues that our country faces.  It has built my awareness and inspired me to conduct more research on topics I knew little about and others I once thought I understood. Reading or listening to personal stories of Americans will make anyone consider answering John F. Kennedy’s infamous question regarding what you can do for your country! 

·         Any anecdotes you can share about being in the White House during such an intense period, with government shutdowns, battles over Obamacare, Syria, and other major events?
“It was certainly an eventful few months.  I felt so alive being in our nation’s capital where all of the action was happening!  Work got busier as each of these events unfolded and I began to realize how hard the president’s job actually is.”

During the shutdown, my program was also closed, but I made the most of my time.  I researched the issue, visited several privately-owned museums, toured George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, and witnessed live press coverage on Capitol Hill.”

·         What do you hope to get out of this experience?
“Fond memories, a taste of professional life, but most importantly I hope that it will help me get my foot in the door somewhere I truly desire to be.  When I first started, I thought I might be able to gain employment at the White House if I successfully demonstrated my skills, commitment, and work ethic.  I began to realize that perhaps it would be best for me to start smaller and build up my qualifications first.  I am sure I will make it in one day if I still desire to be there.”

·         Do you think it’s worthwhile for other students to spend a semester/year/period in this sort of work? What do you get from being in this environment?
“Of course!  All students should get a taste of their particular career interest through an internship, volunteer opportunity and/or semester program if it is feasible.  It will enhance their professional development, give them networking opportunities, and influence their career decisions.  That last point is the most important.  It is better to realize whether you love or hate something before you graduate and get hired.”

·         What are your aspirations and future plans? Do you plan to work in politics?
Right now I am not entirely sure.  I have always been interested in national security and advising policymakers on what priorities to set for America’s best interests at home and abroad to protect our citizens.  I am confident that my passion for such a career would drive me to accomplish great things.  However, it is quite a competitive field that seeks some of the brightest minds in the country, so I need to keep my options open.  I have also considered working in government affairs in the private sector, which might give me a greater opportunity to pursue higher education and open the door to an important job in government down the road.  In either case, being a volunteer at the White House was certainly worthwhile and I was proud to serve there.  I am sure including that experience on my resume will make me more marketable.  The fear of what will come next intensifies as graduation approaches, but I think that everything will work out for those who hit the ground running early on.”

·         Do you plan to come back to UNC Charlotte, or does this finish up your studies?
“Yes, I will be wrapping up my final semester in the spring (2014).  It seems bittersweet, but I feel ready to move on to the next chapter of my life.  I look forward to sharing my experience with my classmates and the Charlotte City Council.”


 Paul Nowell is media relations manager in the Office of Public Relations.

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