Congressional Internship Provides Opportunities

By Katie Yingling
photo courtesy of Chana Elgin.

Chana Elgin and A.J. Travis were walking out of a gelato store in downtown D.C. when a homeless man walked up to the pair and asked, “Are you going to eat that?”

Travis responded saying, “Yes, of course we are going to eat these.” Then the homeless man indignantly replied, “Well what am I supposed to eat?”

This humorous encounter was just one incident on a long list of experiences for Texas Tech students participating in the Washington D.C. congressional internship.

Chana Elgin is a junior broadcast journalism major from Houston who is currently a congressional intern to U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, a Republican from Fort Worth.

Travis is a senior political science major and mass communications minor from Harker Heights, Texas, and is currently the congressional intern for U.S. Rep. John Carter, a Republican from Round Rock, Texas.

The interns are two of more than 180 Texas Tech students who have travelled to D.C. as part of the program. Donald Haragan, then Texas Tech president, established the program in 1999 so Texas Tech students could have an opportunity to learn how federal policy is formulated.

Elgin said she is gaining a better appreciation and understanding of what Congress is doing.

“I am getting an opportunity to get to know our government very, very well,” Elgin said. “I am gaining a better respect for it.”

Travis and Elgin both say they start their day with pretty typical office duties – making coffee, stuffing envelops, sorting newspapers, and answering phones.

“I can send faxes and e-mails like nobody’s business,” Elgin said.

Travis said he enjoys running errands around the Capitol, writing letters to constituents, and giving tours.

“There are good people in the office. We are all different but share a common ground,” Travis said. “It is kind of a work hard play hard situation. We get stuff done but we also have a really good time.”

One of the tours Travis and another intern gave ended in an exciting celebrity sighting. Travis was outside the White House and four worried people were standing nearby. One of the women asked Travis to use his phone to check on a reservation, as the group was visiting to speak on behalf of U.S. Rep. Diane Watson of California.

While the woman was using his phone, Travis chatted with two of the men in the party, and he soon learned he was speaking with Giorgio Gucci, owner of the Gucci clothing company.

Besides personal encounters with fashion royalty, the congressional interns are gaining valuable experience.

Ann Rodriguez, a visiting assistant professor of advertising and public relations in the College of Media & Communication, wrote Elgin a letter of recommendation when she was applying for the internship. Rodriguez said Elgin was a good fit because of her natural curiosity in learning.

“I just think that it gives you an opportunity, sort of like studying Spanish in Spain,” Rodriguez said. “It gives you an opportunity to be really immersed in the environment in which you think you would like to work someday.”

Rodriguez said she is a big fan of the program and it is great for mass communication students. She said there is a lot of practical experience, which could be helpful in the future.

“There are so many communications opportunities there,” Rodriguez said. “There are a wide variety of jobs to prepare yourself for.”

Because of this opportunity, Elgin’s plans for the future are wide open. She said she is considering applying to law school.

While the interns are working full-time on Capitol Hill, they are also enrolled in six hours at Texas Tech. The internship class that both Travis and Elgin are enrolled in requires them to write a weekly journal entry on their experiences in Washington, D.C.

Elgin said the journal entries help her organize her thoughts and evaluate how effective Congress is. The journals and evaluations from the interns’ office are taken into consideration when the grading period arises.

Approximately 10 Texas Tech students go to D.C. each semester and live in a house near the National Mall.

For the time they’re in D.C., the “Tech house” is what Texas Tech students call home. It has two stories and two bathrooms. Elgin and Travis both said that the bathrooms are a little crowded in the mornings when everyone is trying to get ready for work.

“I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to get out and experience something you don’t get in Lubbock and get out and work in a professional setting.” — A.J. Travis

“It can be a little inconvenient at times,” Elgin said. “At 1:30 in the morning you would think it would be bedtime but that doesn’t always happen. It has been fun though. It has created a great dynamic.”

Overall, the congressional internships provide valuable lessons, insight into future careers and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Elgin said she has learned she does not want to work behind a desk and, although the internship is not always glamorous, she is happy to take advantage of an opportunity to learn.

Travis said that he has gained a sense of professionalism and a knack for networking.

“This has been a great opportunity,” Travis said. “I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to get out and experience something you don’t get in Lubbock and get out and work in a professional setting.”

Elgin said that her experience in Washington will help her interact with people for the rest of her life.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot about myself,” Elgin said. "I have gained a better sense of interaction with people and tolerating their political views.”