Student politicos, from K Street to the Hill

GW students hail from all 50 states and more than 125 countries around the world. But once they get to D.C., many have at least one common interest: politics.

Whether they are lobbying a member of Congress, working in the speaker of the House of Representative’s office, or perhaps supporting a senator’s quest to make it to the Oval Office, students here use GW’s location to their advantage to get involved in the nation’s capital.

“Our focus is not just our classes, our student organizations, or our friends. We’re juggling an internship, maybe two,” said Chris Brooks, a junior majoring in political communication.

Brooks has interned all over D.C. and currently works at Campaign Solutions, a campaign consulting firm specializing in online outreach. It’s the kind of place he can see himself working after he graduates next year, and that is no coincidence, he said.

“I had interned at the Republican National Committee and seen the party side of politics, and up on the Hill and seen the public service side, so I wanted to see what the private sector had,” Brooks said.

Other students, like junior Teddi Shihadeh, decided to stay on the Hill after doing a semester-long internship. Spending the last year working for Nancy Pelosi, the current speaker of the House has certainly piqued Shihadeh’s interest.

“You get up on the Hill and you’re involved with policy decisions that affect people across the country. I got addicted,” Shihadeh said.

The addictive quality is what encouraged this psychology student to pick up a second major: political science. This way her internship and classwork flow seamlessly together.

“You see it in the campaign,” Shihadeh said, speaking of Pelosi’s re-election campaign in the fall. “You see how people tailor the message to affect people. That’s all psychology. The stuff I learn in class in regards to political theory is seen in the policy work that goes on.”

Although students usually integrate their internships into their fields of study in order to experience the practical side in addition to the theoretical one they learn in the classroom, some students admit that juggling an internship with a full load of classes can be difficult but nevertheless worthwhile.

“(My internship) has taken a lot of time away from other extracurricular activities, clubs and student organizations. My grades could, you know, probably be a little bit better. But I tell myself that I’m working towards the good of the country,” said freshman Tobin Van Ostern, who spends more than 50 hours a week working as the deputy director for students in Barack Obama’s campaign.

As a co-founder of Students for Barack Obama, the official Obama student group that rose from the Facebook group, Van Ostern has been involved in Obama’s campaign for presidency for some time.

“If I didn’t believe in Obama and that he’s good for everyone, I wouldn’t be spending so many hours working for him,” Van Ostern said.

Van Ostern does most of his work for Students for Barack Obama from his dorm room since the Internet-based work can take place anywhere he has Web access.

While Van Ostern is motivated by his belief in Obama and his new campaign strategies, including not accepting money from political action committees or federally regulated lobbyists, he said there is another reason he puts in the amount of work he does.

“We’re going to demonstrate that youths matter,” Van Ostern said.

No matter what their goals may be, all three students agree on one thing: attending GW has facilitated their political aspirations. Once listed as the best school for politically interested students in Newsweek, GW encourages its students to take advantage of all the city has to offer, especially internships. Brooks said he agrees with the University’s philosophy, citing that the political science program rewards internships with additional credit, provided it receives approval and is accompanied by some type of academic work summarizing the experience.

“Even if you come to GW intending to never have an internship, I think by the time you leave, you have had at least one,” Brooks said, adding that the location of the campus, which is walking distance from many internships, provides an incentive to get involved.

Shihadeh said she agrees as well, noting that GW’s location is key for taking a full class load and still finding time to get an internship.

“It’s made it accessible. If I didn’t go to GW, I couldn’t do this during the year,” Shihadeh said.

Brooks said this has even become a joke ships themselves.

“All the interns come from across the country during the summer, but during the year it’s GW students doing the bulk of the work,” Brooks said.

The proximity, the rewards and, oftentimes, simply believing in a cause all encourage students to intern somewhere in the city. This builds a culture of involvement that has earned GW national recognition. It builds a culture that motivates students to see beyond the classroom. For Van Ostern, this is why GW was a logical choice when selecting a college.

“I’m kind of a political junkie, and that’s why I’m here,” he said. “This is where it all happens.”

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