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Ashleigh Leitch

For CSB Alumna, Opportunity Leads to White House

By Diane Hageman, CSB director of media relations

The word "opportunity" must rank high among CSB '09 alumna Ashleigh Leitch's favorite words.

She embraced the opportunities of college life, including study abroad, internships and fellowships. Now, her latest opportunity begins this month with an internship at the White House.

Ashleigh with students in India.It's been a whirlwind nine months for Ashleigh since graduation in May. Armed with her degree in political science (with minors in Hispanic studies and philosophy), Ashleigh left in early July and traveled for a month before arriving in Jaipur, India, where she spent four months teaching middle school students in two different schools. "I've always loved to travel. My study abroad experience was in Chile, and I didn't decide to go to India until our spring break last year."

She taught eighth grade civics to a class of 40 students (mostly boys) at the elite private school Neerju Modi. She also taught art to fifth through seventh grade girls at the Nischay School, a school for poor, lower class girls. "India taught me to live simply. It was great," she said.

While in India, she decided to apply for an internship at the White House. There are 200 interns in the White House, and Ashleigh knew the process would be competitive. She was thrilled when she found out she had been assigned to the Office of Cabinet Affairs, which provides messaging and policies to the other departments, agencies and sub-agencies within the Cabinet. "This experience will be a great look at the executive branch - deeper than a classroom, deeper than a textbook," she noted.

She is especially appreciative of the assistance she received from CSB/SJU faculty during the application process. "The political science faculty really rallied around me. I believe my application was stronger because of their feedback. Even though I had already graduated, they were so willing to help me," Ashleigh said.

Switching gears from India to the White House will take some serious mental energy - moving from the simple life to, as Ashleigh states, "gearing up for 12-hour days, power suits and Blackberries." She isn't sure what her specific responsibilities will be, but she expects to be involved in editing and fact checking reports to the president and scheduling East Wing tours.

Ashleigh believes her education and her internships prepared her well for her White House experience. She interned in Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office during the summer of 2007 and was in the first cohort of Jackson Fellows in the summer of 2008. Through that program, she worked for the Legal Aid office in her hometown of Willmar.

She has no grand plan for the future except to "be healthy and happy and do good work." Yet, law school and graduate school and a potential run for office are all "opportunities" she is considering.

Her advice to current students: "So many doors were opened for me through my education at CSB. It was my decision whether or not to walk through those doors. There are so many great opportunities, it's important to make the most of them."

January 18, 2010