History of the Washington Internship Scholarship

Untold numbers of interns make their way to Washington, DC every summer. It makes for some great social gatherings: “Washington embraces these students with its bars, monuments, museums — and even paddleboarding on the Potomac River,” in the words of The New York Times. More importantly, for a substantial portion of these student interns who come here for politically-themed internships— perhaps on Capitol Hill or for a local think tank— their experiences over the summer can help them to test whether a career in politics is right for them and in what ways they may wish to contribute to this vast professional domain.  

 

In 2003, the Pi Sigma Alpha Executive Council sought to help provide this meaningful opportunity by introducing a new scholarship program that would support a select number of students interning in Washington, DC each year. The proposal submitted that establishing this scholarship would be “consistent with PSA’s general goals of acknowledging and encouraging interest in political science among our most talented students,” in the words of future Pi Sigma Alpha national president Robin Kolodny of Temple University. As chair of the Pi Sigma Alpha Ad Hoc Committee on Internships at the time, Kolodny wrote that such a scholarship would “meet our intellectual desire to foster a sense of the importance of politics on our best students, including and especially the vast cohort that is bound for law school.”

 

“I wrote the proposal at the urging of Sandy Maisel, another longtime PSA affiliate at Colby College,” Kolodny says. “Increasingly, bigger state university systems and private universities [had] been setting up Washington internship programs. That still means many deserving PSA members [did] not have easy access to this type of experience. Given the importance of DC exposure for nearly every political science student, this scholarship was established.”

 

It was suggested that $2,000 worth of support be offered to three students completing internships in Washington, DC. The new program was largely modeled after the existing Howard Penniman Scholarship, with some modifications made based on the outcome of the latter, and the proposal carefully explained this forthcoming scholarship would lie within PSA’s annual budget. One of the three scholarships was reserved for a student who had been accepted to the Washington Center, due to the funding and tuition expenses this group had offered Pi Sigma Alpha. 

 

“The Washington Center generously agreed to give a housing scholarship to any of our winners who come to DC through their program,” Kolodny explains.

 

This initial proposal has since taken shape as the Nancy McManus Washington Internship Scholarship. Named for a longtime Pi Sigma Alpha administrator, this program currently sponsors up to five student members of the society with $2,000 to be used towards a political science internship programs in Washington, DC, either during the summer term or fall semester each year. Sixty-five students have been awarded this scholarship since it was first introduced in 2003 and over a quarter of those are still living and working in the DC area, engaged in a variety of professions such as law, government, and education.

 

“I did expect that this would be the first stage of a very long journey in Washington,” Pi Sigma Alpha alum Devin Rhinerson says of his summer as a Washington Internship Scholar in 2005. “I knew from early on in high school that I wanted to move to DC, work in Congress, then become a lobbyist. The internship I had in DC that summer gave me the experience I needed to help make that dream a reality.”

 

Rhinerson spent that summer working with the National Water Resources Association.  After graduating from Emory University in 2006, he moved back to Washington, DC and has remained here ever since. A native Californian, he worked at the Office of Senator Diane Feinstein for eight years and has been at Pace LLP since 2013. He traces much of this career success to the skills he acquired as a Pi Sigma Alpha-funded intern back in 2005.

 

“My work as an intern gave me concrete experience to call on during my interview process, as well as a core interest that I could work towards while in the office,” he says. “I would not have been as qualified to get the job in Senator Feinstein's office without that internship on my resume.”

 

Another Pi Sigma Alpha alum, Patrick Pratt, arrived in Washington in summer 2009 to work as a Government Relations Intern for the Constituency for Africa, a non-profit group that aims to develop support for Africa within the United States. He arrived not certain what he wanted to make of his interests in international relations and foreign affairs, but his experience as a Washington Internship Scholar brought some important clarity to his career path. 

 

“My internship in Washington not only developed my practical professional skills, but it was a window to a broad range of career opportunities,” he says. “My work brought me into frequent contact with N.G.O.'s and think tanks, as well as U.S. Government agencies and foreign embassies. This is the first time I considered a career in the U.S. Foreign Service a real possibility.  Subsequent internships and travel abroad solidified this. Had I not gone to Washington that semester, no doubt my life would have taken a completely different path.”

 

Pratt graduated from Middle Tennessee State University the following year and spent the year in Tanzania as a Fulbright Scholar. He returned to Washington to complete his Master’s in International Affairs at the George Washington University and is currently a Foreign Service Officer at the American Embassy in Brussels. He encourages younger students to pursue internships and work experiences of the sort that he took on himself as a Pi Sigma Alpha-funded intern.

 

“In today's foreign affairs workforce, without a well-developed network it's hard to enter without a graduate degree or a string of internships,” he says.

 

Over a decade after Pratt and Rhinerson came to the nation’s capital on a Washington Internship Scholarship, more recent recipients continue to benefit from this valuable opportunity of gaining early professional experience. 

 

”I cannot express how much the Washington Internship Scholarship from Pi Sigma Alpha helped me achieve my goals and jump-start my career in politics,” says Brooke Hebb, who was a member of the Nu Omega Chapter at Oakland University. She was a legislative intern in Congress this past summer, representing her home state of Michigan.

 

“When I was in D.C. I was able to network with a wide array of professionals, from the business world to the political scene,” she says. “This opportunity helped me figure out my true career path and without it I wouldn’t be the same student or young professional I am today.”

 

Abby Korb, a senior at Ripon College who interned in the Wisconsin Senate Office last summer, says she would encourage her fellow political science students to take advantage of the scholarship program as well.

 

“A politics student should go to D.C. for an internship because it is truly something like no other,” she attests. “You get to meet other young professionals and get your foot in the door in the heart of your field of interest. Interning in DC this summer... helped me realize that I am capable from moving away from home and succeeding in a different place.”

“A politics student should go to D.C. for an internship because it is truly something like no other,” she attests. “You get to meet other young professionals and get your foot in the door in the heart of your field of interest. Interning in DC this summer... helped me realize that I am capable from moving away from home and succeeding in a different place.”

Abby Korb, Ripon College

2019 Scholarship Winner

“My internship in Washington not only developed my practical professional skills, but it was a window to a broad range of career opportunities,” he says. “My work brought me into frequent contact with N.G.O.'s and think tanks, as well as U.S. Government agencies and foreign embassies.”

Patrick Pratt, Middle Tennessee State

2009 Scholarship Winner

“I did expect that this would be the first stage of a very long journey in Washington. I knew from early on in high school that I wanted to move to DC, work in Congress, then become a lobbyist. The internship I had in DC that summer gave me the experience I needed to help make that dream a reality.”

Devin Rhinerson, Emory University

2005 Scholarship Winner

Pi Sigma Alpha
1527 New Hampshire Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
p: 202-349-9285
e: office@pisigmaalpha.org

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