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Name: Catherine Garton
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Major: Biology (Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity)
Minors: Energy Science and Policy, Applied Statistics
Internship placement: Office of Senator Gary C. Peters (MI)
Why did you decide to do Michigan in Washington?
As much as I enjoy taking classes, the speed of current events makes me antsy about spending so much time in lecture halls and libraries, rather than making change in the real world. I care a lot about climate change, and I plan to spend my caree r supporting climate resilience and adaptation -- but how exactly, I wasn’t sure. That’s why I was drawn to Michigan in Washington. I wanted a little hiatus from textbooks and a glimpse at work, hoping that this would clarify my next steps after school. MIW has opened my eyes to career paths I didn’t even know existed, and I have a better understanding of the directions I can take now. It’s been one of the most invaluable experiences I’ve had in college.
What do you do during a typical day at your internship?
Like a lot of people will tell you, no two days are the same. However, I like my internship partly because there is still some basic structure, and I always know what is expected of me. As a “Hilltern,” certain responsibilities never change: we read incoming letters, sort emails, and listen to the phones. I probably spend about 30% of my time on basic office upkeep. The rest of my time, though, varies by the day (or the latest news cycle). The legislative aides frequently have me conduct background research for bills they are writing. Usually I attend several briefings each week and write memos for office use. I also sit in on meetings, draft letters to constituents, make binders for the Senator’s committee hearings, run around the House and Senate offices collecting signatures, and give tours of the Capitol to constituents. Essentially, the interns work for everyone in the office; if someone needs something done, we do it with a smile. Working on the Hill is not for you if you want to feel like the most important person in the room — but there is no substitute for understanding how the halls of Congress work.
Which elective are you taking and what’s the most interesting part of the class?
I am taking Campaigns and Elections with Prof. Ken Goldstein. I like the class because it is practical. We learn how to calculate share and performance for candidates, use weighted polling data, and compare advertising impacts in different media markets. (The math doesn’t get harder than basic algebra, so never fear.) If you think you might want to work on a campaign at any point, this class will give you an edge.
What do you like to do in D.C. during your free time?
I’m guilty of not going to enough museums. Take advantage of them while you’re here — they’re world class! If you’re not a museum geek, though, there is still so much to do. I spend a lot of my time exploring the different neighborhoods of D.C, each of which has its own flavor. Take your Friday afternoons to walk around Georgetown, stroll down U Street, find Obama’s house (hint: turn right at the Islamic Center if you’re walking NW on Mass Ave), take a trip to the Wharf, bike around the monuments, or hop between coffee shops in Penn Quarter and Chinatown. Don’t be afraid not to have a destination. Just have fun wandering! Lastly, shows are a great way to feel classy. I’ve been to the Kennedy Center half a dozen times. Don’t assume the tickets are always too expensive, because there are some great student discounts.
What’s something on your D.C. bucket list?
I still really want to see a Supreme Court case. Arguments only last 1 hour, but the lines can be really long, so I will have to wake up early. I also have a couple museums to knock off my list: the Holocaust Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Geographic Museum.
What advice would you give to a student interested in Michigan in Washington?
If you’re interested, do it. That’s my advice. :)
But seriously, once you’re in D.C.: Try to do as much as you can in your first 1-2 months here, both at your internship and outside of it. If you’re like me, you probably start the semester with a lot of energy, but the days become more routine as the months wear on and responsibilities accumulate. So capitalize on that fresh enthusiasm for the first two months in D.C., before your internship starts to wind down and you get saddled with end-of-term projects. Ask people to coffee. Go to shows. Take on big projects at work. You’ll be grateful when you’re half-way through and realize you already have a lot under your belt. (Also, when it comes to networking, people often have to schedule meetings several weeks out, so you might not be able to squeeze in all the coffees if you wait too long…)
Come to Washington! I fell in love with it, and I hope you will too.