Capital summer program goes off the books

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August 27, 2010

12:49 AM

The only thing muffling the sound of his nervous heartbeat was the crinkling of the microphone sitting in front of him. If he just kept his eyes on the paper, Chris Wilson ’11 hoped he might forget that he was sitting in front of a congressional commission, about to testify to Congress.

“My boss had a meeting that day, so he couldn’t make it,” Wilson said. “He asked if I would like to testify in front of Congress, so I was like, ‘Yeah, why not?’”

When Wilson began his internship with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a global think tank in Washington D.C., he never imagined testifying in Congress would be part of the job description.

“Mostly it was doing research on an individual basis and working closely with my boss,” Wilson said. “The work I was doing was somewhat finance-related, but it was not your traditional [job] working for a marketing company.”

Wilson found the internship with the Carnegie Institute through the College of William and Mary D.C. Summer Institute program, which was initiated this past summer. The program allows students to earn credits in either national security or business programs and combines that experience with a summer internship. Wilson’s finance skills set him apart from other interns with whom he worked at the Carnegie Institute in the Energy and Climate program.

“They wanted someone with a finance background,” Director of the Washington Office Adam Anthony said. “Even though he was in the business institute, he ended up doing public policy work.”

Anthony and his colleagues in the William and Mary Washington Office selected 29 students to be a part of the first D.C. Summer Institute Program in both the national security institute and the business institute.

While looking for internships, those in the office attempted to utilize the students’ special talents in order to create unique internship opportunities.

“One of our students worked at the Discovery Channel,” Anthony said. “She was responsible for working on the website for ‘River Monsters.’ Her supervisor said that it was so great that she had yearbook experience because she could deal with photos and captions, which was perfect for her job.”

Ashely Harmon ’11 said that her double major in international relations and economics came to life while she was working for the Department of Homeland Security as an economic analyst intern.

“The internship showed me how to incorporate my majors into a job,” Harmon said. “I worked on projects dealing with the economic impact of the oil spill on the travel industry in the [Gulf of Mexico] and the economic impact of the drilling moratorium in Louisiana.”

Before diving into their respective internships, students in the program participated in a two-week long intensive class.

“We were only in class a couple of hours each day,” Harmon said. “Then the rest of it was lectures, guest speakers and class trips almost every day. We went to the Pentagon and the German Embassy.”

On one of the site visits, students toured Lockheed Martin, a global security company, where they were able to try out the flight simulators in the building.

“Two alumni hosted us for a morning at their facility in Crystal City,” Anthony said. “They talked in great detail about how a defense contractor runs and the operations of the business. Then they let us fly these flight simulators for two of these jets.”

According to Wilson, the site visits and guest speakers provided opportunities that could not be matched in a normal fall or spring semester at the College.

“We probably spent more hours in the short two-week class than we would have in an entire semester,” Wilson said.

The D.C. Summer Institute combines academics with hands-on job experience. While acceptance into the program is competitive, Harmon believes the connections and skills obtained are worth the hard work.

“That’s how people find jobs,” Harmon said. “Just by interacting with people. It’s not about your GPA or resume, but it’s about meeting people in the field of what you want to go into.”

Anthony agrees that the experience received at the D.C. Summer Institute is not something that other summer internships can match easily.

“The ability for a student to come to Washington and to be able to experience working in Washington and to get contacts, to be able to do substantive things, to be able to experience high profile institutions, that’s priceless,” Anthony said. “I think everybody understands the value of an internship, but then the fact that it is paired with academics, I think that it is a really critical combination.”

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