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Belmont student interns for Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois

Belmont Junior and social entrepreneurship major Katherine Heidecke landed herself an impressive internship for the summer, interning for Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois in Chicago.

Is there a specific role or title you have working for the senator? 

I am a casework intern. Essentially, constituents can contact the senator asking for help with federal agencies. This can range anywhere from people asking for assistance with expediting an immigration visa to inquiring about veteran’s benefits. Every intern is assigned to a staffer in the senator’s Chicago office. My role consists of attending to my staffer’s needs, which ranges from writing memos, crafting letters, inputing casework, attending events and meetings and answering phones.

How did you land the internship? What was that whole process like?

Initially, I did not know whether I was going to stay in Nashville this summer or go home to Chicago. I ended up pursuing great opportunities in both places, which is lucky to say the least. For this internship specifically, the process began with me preparing a cover letter, resume, and a general application provided by the senator’s office. After about a month, I got a call saying I’d been selected to interview. Since I was in Nashville, I did a phone interview versus face-to-face. I was interviewed by two staffers who asked me questions ranging from “Why do you want to intern for the senator?” to “If you could pass any bill through the senate, what would it be and why?” After the interview, I received a call about a week later saying I got the internship. I had to accept it within a week and I did.

Is this the kind of internship that is typical of a social entrepreneurship major? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do and is it something you think you’d pursue after college, now that you’ve gotten a taste of it?

Typically, no. Students in my major tend to intern for nonprofits. To be honest, if you told me two years ago that I’d be interning for a U.S. senator, I would not have believed you. Though I have always been interested in social sciences, it was not until my senior year of high school in government class that I really became interested. And that was just the beginning. I did not become truly interested until this past year. Due to our political climate and being able to vote for the first time in a presidential election, I really could not ignore the political world. This internship was definitely a test run. Though I knew government work intrigued me, I did not know whether I’d enjoy making a career out of it. Now that I have had experience, I would like to work in government after graduation.

Describe your day-to-day role as an intern for the senator. What are some of the things you’ve worked on this summer? 

All interns get to the office at 8:30 a.m.. On Monday mornings, I usually have the first phone shift with another intern. First thing in the morning, voicemails need to be checked and faxes need to be logged into our system. Depending on current events, we could have over 100 voicemails. From there, I spend about two and half hours finishing voicemails while simultaneously answering any calls that come in. Most people call to leave a comment for the senator, which we record and send to his Washington D.C. office. Otherwise, constituents are usually calling about a case they may have with the senator’s office or to speak with another staffer. After my phone shift ends, I usually check with my boss to see if she has anything to do such as filing, inputting casework, calling constituents, writing memos or crafting letters. If she doesn’t have anything, I usually work on general casework that the office has received and create a case for it.

What’s been the most surprising thing about the experience for you? 

I think the most surprising thing has been how wonderful the staff in our office is. All of them are so kind, understanding and extremely passionate about they do, which was so refreshing. They are so willing to answer questions and let us sit in on meetings.

What’s been the most educational?

I have never been more politically aware than I am right now, thanks to this internship. Because of our current political climate, no day is the same as another in the senator’s office. When people call about the American Health Care Act, immigration ban, or the Russia investigation, you better be aware of it all and know exactly what’s going on. If you’re not, you are not going to be able to serve the senator’s constituents in the best way possible.When it comes to casework, the most educational piece of information I have learned is how legislation directly impacts an individual. For example, I never realized just how much the immigration travel ban could prohibit so many people from obtaining a visa. The sad part is most people are trying to visit loved ones or pursue education.

What has that political climate added to the experience for you? 

This political climate has added unimaginable value to my internship. It has required me to think on my feet, always be current with the news, and to really understand how our government works and affects peoples’ lives.

Has your internship given you a greater understanding or appreciation for the type of work that is done in government? 

Yes. If anything, the staffers in this office have shown me what real dedication looks like. There is more to working for a senator than straight policy. The staffers in this office directly help struggling Americans. It also showed me that good, important work can still be done even when your political party does not hold the majority.

Photo courtesy of Katherine Heidecke

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