"I didn’t realize how valuable the Washington, D.C. internship program was until after I took part in it. It was very encouraging to see how many other people supported my internship by donating funding or providing support,” says Jeff Vanderslice ’07, a member of the inaugural group of Cal State Fullerton students who participated in the university’s first D.C. internship program in 2006.
Vanderslice turned his summer internship in Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s office into a full-time job as a legislative aide after his graduation. Other D.C. interns have had the same experience. If not job offers, they believe that this experience led them to other opportunities, whether it was working for elected officials, lobbying groups or getting accepted into prestigious graduate programs.
And it all started with Margaret McCarthy. A Fullerton alumna from 1984, McCarthy remembered her “Sac Semester” while she was a public administration major at CSUF. She had the opportunity to study and work for a semester in the state capital through a CSU-sponsored program. “I worked for then-governor George Deukmejian,” she recalls. “When I graduated, I had a chance to go work in D.C.”
While there, McCarthy noticed that interns from other schools were prevalent in the capital, but she rarely saw students from CSUF.
“For someone like me who hadn’t traveled much, having the opportunity to work in Sacramento and D.C. were amazing experiences,” she says. “My husband, Michael Potter (an alumnus of Sacramento State), and I decided to give those same opportunities to students from both of our alma maters. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of helping to send students to study and work in Washington, D.C.”
“The first year, we had 19 students – 18 from Fullerton and one from Sonoma State,” remembers Stephen Stambough, assistant professor of political science and director of the CSUF-D.C. program. “This summer, we had 40 students – 36 from Fullerton and the rest from other CSU campuses.” This was Stambough’s third year running the CSUF-D.C. program. For 10 weeks this summer, students participated in internships as well as classes held in the evenings. This year’s class was “Practicing Politics,” a course that focused on current issues in politics and crime and featured guest speakers from the D.C. area, such as Lauren Smith, the communications director for Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Corinna Farrell of the Death Penalty Information Center.
“While the majority of our students are majoring in political science, we also have students majoring in American studies, philosophy and business,” says Stambough. What Fullerton students discover when they arrive for a summer of study and work, is that D.C. is quite different than “the OC.”
“I love the energy in D.C. and the fact that something is always happening,” says Vanderslice. “For someone with a degree in political science, it’s great because you’re right in the midst of all this work.”
Others have noticed that since the program was launched, it has revitalized CSUF alums living in the D.C. area. “The mobilization of alumni has been amazing,” Vanderslice says. “Ever since the program started, people have been willing to network and help in any way they can. It’s great to see alums reconnect with the university.”
That help includes funding and support as well as arranging for students to serve internships in a variety of fields. This year’s interns worked in congressional offices, on congressional committees (including the difficult-to-obtain Senate Foreign Relations Committee), in lobbying firms, PR and campaign firms, issue advocacy groups, National Geographic and the Holocaust Museum. This year’s group will also visit Gettysburg, courtesy of alum Dave England, who works with Imagine One, a technology and management consulting firm.
“Over the years, I have discovered that if you give students an opportunity, it opens doors for them down the line,” McCarthy says. “When I was a student, I had those kinds of opportunities, so I’d like to be able to provide that kind of support to students at Cal State Fullerton.”