This past summer, I had the amazing opportunity to intern at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Office of Public Affairs. My first week, former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, President Trump accused Comey of lying, and my “Big Boss,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions, got pulled into the battle.
After an overwhelming first week—filled with a whirlwind of new experiences and tasks—my director took me and another intern out for tea. (If you’re ever in the district, make sure you go to Teaism!) Over green tea and chocolate cookies, she informed us it had been a relatively slow week.
I was spending the summer in Washington, thanks to U-M’s Public Service Intern Program (PSIP), which bills itself as “the oldest and largest intern program in the country” and just completed its 48th summer operating in Washington. I applied in the fall of 2016 as an LSA junior with a double major in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience, and modern Greek. PSIP provided me with a timeline of when to apply for internships and helped me write cover letters and resumes.
Upon arriving in Washington at the end of May, I moved into a George Washington University residence with around 60 other PSIP students from U-M. Together, living just blocks from the White House, we explored the “do’s and don’ts” of professional life. Over dinner in our community kitchen, we shared advice on everything from footwear (are flip-flops allowed?) to office apparel (jeans or no jeans?) and exchanged anecdotes about negotiating the crowded, and often complicated, Metro system.
At DOJ, I mostly worked with three other female interns, as well as another woman we dubbed “Mom” for her extremely helpful, lovely, and detail-oriented personality. Our daily tasks included helping to organize press conferences, drafting press releases, doing research, and anything else needed. Often, a senior staffer or the office director would slip a credit card into one of our hands asking for a sandwich, coffee, or, on one occasion, some Band-Aids.
As the summer progressed, we learned the routine, becoming more and more useful at answering phone calls and emails from top journalists around the world and forwarding them to the appropriate press officers. We also learned to filter messages from civilians, a number of whom would ask to speak directly to the attorney general.
My favorite days were when we held press conferences. A composed chaos would take over the office as they were usually thrown together quickly with the speeches completed only at the very last minute. On these days, I found myself escorting the media around the building. Once, I found myself in a room with some of America’s most important leaders, the attorney general, the former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the acting FBI director. We were always surprised, despite our exhaustion, by how fast these press days went by.
More than anything, I learned what it means to be professional. I never knew the political views of my colleagues unless they were appointed by the president. Though one hears about divisiveness in Washington, the people in my office formed relationships with each other and the interns. While we were serious when we needed to be, there was also a lot of joking. I had never worked in an environment like it before and found it invigorating.
My internship ended up shaping my future goals. I worked often with the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the DOJ and, in turn, met people with the Environmental Protection Agency. Both affirmed my passion for the environment. Beyond that, the people I met this summer are now some of my closest friends at U-M. In short, I highly recommend applying for PSIP.
For more information on PSIP, click here.
Senior Anna Haritos is an editorial assistant for Michigan Alumnus and the senior social media editor at The Michigan Daily.