This summer, six Penn students left West Philadelphia to work in the West Wing.
The White House summer internship program, which began in May, brought together students from different educational paths at Penn. However, they all shared a common passion for public service.
Rising College senior Collette Bloom, a former 34th Street editor, is working at the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. Her internship involves working with the staff member responsible for outreach to young Americans. Her day-to-day tasks involve drafting materials, sitting in on briefings and staff meetings or helping run meetings and events, she wrote in an email. For Bloom, “no two days of [her] internship have been alike.”
2012 Wharton and College graduate Corey Metzman described an average day for a White House intern differently, explaining that as an intern with the National Economic Council, he would “help to prepare policy memos, gather data to support the policy process and hear from a senior White House official as part of the intern speaker series.”
For rising College senior Colin Zelicof, working for the Domestic Policy Council involves different tasks, such as synthesizing daily and weekly reports, compiling daily press clips and assisting with the scheduling of events related to the DPC’s Director and Deputy Director.
Rising third-year Law School student Aaron Tjoa is also interning at the DPC, but is focusing on issues pertaining to health. Prior to law school, he worked on HIV/AIDS policy issues in Africa and Asia, but he decided to apply to be a White House intern after being “inspired by the election of President Obama and the passage of the Affordable Care Act to refocus on domestic health issues.”
Despite the interns’ involvement in a wide array of activities, their interest in politics and dedication to public service was the common factor that drove each of them to apply.
For Bloom, the internship was a chance to explore her interest in youth outreach efforts.
“This summer has been particularly exciting, as President Obama recently signed a bill preventing student loan interest rates from doubling, an event which I was fortunate enough to attend,” she wrote in an email. “The opportunity to engage my own constituency is extremely special in its own right.”
Elizabeth Walsh, a 2012 College graduate, was inspired to apply by Political Science professor John DiIulio, who said more young, bright kids need to consider entering government. “Those words stuck with me while I was at Penn,” she wrote in an email.
The interns pointed to both academics and extracurricular involvement at Penn as playing a key role in preparing them for the White House.
Bloom wrote that her Political Science major helped her “to better understand the day-to-day events that took place in the White House and in D.C. as a whole.” On the other hand, Metzman felt that his work on the Wharton Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Board taught him how to “distill an issue to its most important elements whether speaking with a university dean, a business leader or a principal at the White House.”
Tjoa added that the Penn Law curriculum was essential to his preparation with its “emphasis on interdisciplinary legal education,” enabling him to “take classes with some top legal health scholars and to see the distinction between health research and federal health policymaking,” he wrote in an email.
Deirdre Martinez, program director of Penn in Washington, was not surprised at the number of Penn interns in the White House or in Washington in general.
“Several of the students at the White House have been volunteering for the [Obama] administration in some way before they applied to the White House internship program,” she wrote in an email.
According to Walsh, the participation of Penn students in previous years has paved the way for this relatively high number of White House interns. “Penn interns have proven their abilities and given the rest of us a good name here,” she wrote.
Each of the interns described the opportunity as “an amazing experience,” recalling some of their best times.
“My favorite sighting was on my first day here when Bo, the first family’s dog, ran right past me,” Walsh wrote.
Metzman thought “watching a Marine One departure” was one of the highlights of his summer, and was glad he was able to witness “how policy proposals evolve and work their way through the inter-agency process and the White House.”
Tjoa wrote in an email that “the best part is being around the brightest health policy minds in the country,” although he added that “walking around in a suit in 106 degree heat can be rough.”
For Zelicof, spending the summer at the White House has had an effect on his future plans.
“Throughout the past two months, I have seen firsthand how government can truly effectuate positive change in the lives of millions of people,” Zelicof wrote. “I’m not sure what career path I want to pursue, but the amazing experience I have had at the White House has definitely made me want to go into some form of public service.”