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Some Penn students took their politics interests to the White House this summer. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

The political debates may be in full swing, but the presidential candidates aren’t the only ones who have their eyes on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Take a look at Penn’s summer 2015 White House interns:

Megha Agarwal, Wharton sophomore 

Agarwal, who is a business staff member for the Daily Pennsylvanian, is a Penn Public Policy Research Scholar and used her internship to combine her interests in business and public policy.  

White House Office: Office of Management and Administration, Personnel Department

Responsibilities: Helped with change in tech platforms, transferring data and streamlining and worked on annual salary report, focusing on gender pay and equity — this year women in the White House made a record high of $0.91 to the dollar.

Top moments: Talking to Denis McDonough, the president's Chief of Staff, about his workouts — he runs to and from the White House everyday and the Secret Service follows him by car — and hearing President Obama’s speech in the Rose Garden after the Supreme Court voted in favor of marriage equality.

What she learned: “A lot of people say that if you want to end up at the White House, you have a certain path that you need to follow—that’s not how the reality is. So many people have different ways of ending up at the White House and doing what they love, but at the White House. You don’t necessarily have to be doing policy work or political science. They have photographers, people who put together video campaigns — there are so many different things in the White House.”

Advice for future interns: “If you even have the remotest interest, apply! What I’ve gotten out of working there and working with all the people there is that there are so many types of people who work at the White House. You don’t have to be a political science major. They’re looking to enter new realms — go for it!”

Sean Foley, College senior

Foley worked for Vice President Joseph Biden this summer, who grew up in the same town as him, Scranton, P.A., and went to the same grade school.

White House Office: Office of the Vice President, Communications Staff

Responsibilities: Drafting a daily news card to brief the office and the vice president, press, media and social media account monitoring.

Top moments: Seeing Vice President Biden, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama speaking and going to the press briefing with Secretary of the Press Josh Earnest on the day the Affordable Care Act was upheld by the Supreme Court.

What he learned: "The main thing you learn is how to handle yourself in a high stakes professional environment. Obviously it’s very serious work that people are doing and you have to rise to that level … The people are very laid back, which was interesting — I did not expect that. All very nice, down-to-earth people, which I think is a reflection of the vice president’s personality also."

Advice for future interns: "Everyone says keep your head down and work, which is true, but it’s also stupid advice. I would say take advantage of every opportunity — the people around you are some of the most accomplished people, they’re intelligent and have a lot of insight. Get to talk to people about their experiences. Relish being there — I will really miss walking in the gates everyday."

Max Levy, College junior

Levy brought his Class Board experience to the White House and learned that he wants to enter a career in politics. 

White House Office: Office of Public Engagement

Responsibilities: Worked on a portfolio of the progressive community and organized the White House Conference on Aging, which takes place once every 10 years.

Top moments: Staffed Obama’s speech about the Iran nuclear deal at American University and saw the President speak at the Conference on Aging.

What he learned: “This was very confirming that that world is somewhere I want to be. One thing I was impressed and surprised about was how little there was of those "House of Cards" political, scheme-y people. Our office was really all about the team mentality of the work needs to get done and it’s only going to get done if we all really see that our goal is the mission of the president — you just put your head down and you work … it was a very positive environment.”

Advice for future interns: “Take advantage of your time there — you’re working at the best place in the world.”

Jane Meyer, College senior

Meyer, a former DP business staff member, has been a big supporter of President Obama ever since 2008. One of her favorite Penn memories was viewing the elections results when he was re-elected for his second term as president.

White House Office: Office of Communications

Responsibilities: Fact-checking for the communications research department and updating White House officials on the latest news.

Top moments: “I was allowed to go into the Rose Garden and see the president deliver his remarks [on marriage equality], which was an incredible moment. Being in the Rose Garden, even without the president, is so cool. And then being there when the president is delivering his speech is amazing, and then when he is delivering a speech on such a historic momentous decision — it’s unreal.”

What she learned: “One of the things I learned in the internship is that hard work is noticed and pays off, at least that was my experience in my office. I felt like a full member of the team — I didn’t necessarily feel like an intern who was ignored half the time, I felt like a true member of the communications team and of the research team. I put hard work in, and that was recognized.”

Advice for future interns: “Take advantage of all the opportunities given to you. They do a great job at the White House of providing structured opportunities to learn more about many different aspects of the White House, so they have speaker series — even if I’m a communications intern, I can go talk to someone about the foreign policy side of things. There will probably be very few other opportunities in your life when you’re basically handed these opportunities to learn on a silver platter.”

Nicolas Garcia, College senior

Garcia said that his internship inspired him to want to run for office back home one day.

White House Office: Office of Presidential Personnel

Responsibilities:  Interviewed candidates for political appointments for the Obama administration and wrote memos on potential candidates.

Top Moments:  Celebrating with White House staffers on the week the Supreme Court voted in favor of marriage equality and upheld the Affordable Care Act. 

What he learned: "My time in the White House taught me that while the president has incredible power, those who work in the agencies and are implementing policy can be just as influential. It is something that I will consider when thinking about who I want to be the next president of the United States — I'm not only voting for a single person's ideology, but what the team that comes with them also cares about."

Advice for future interns: "White House staffers are some of the most genuine and thoughtful people I have ever met. I would encourage any future intern to get to know their fellow interns, but to also develop real friendships with staffers, some who have been in your shoes. They have committed themselves to a life of public service and are very open to helping interns in developing their own paths down that route." 

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