August 7, 2014
By Mike Killeen
The White House in Washington, D.C., is known as the "People's House." This summer, the White House has served as a work "home" to CSB senior Bridget Cummings.
Cummings, a political science major from Chaska, Minnesota, is one of about 140 college students selected from across the country to participate in the Summer White House Internship Program. She is the only current participant in the White House Internship Program who attends a college or university in Minnesota.
"The program's mission is to make the 'People's House' accessible to future leaders from around the nation," Cummings said.
She serves in the Office of Legislative Affairs, which acts as a liaison between the White House and Congress.
"Our office is split between staff that work with the Senate and the House; I work on the House side," Cummings said. "My duties include answering the phones, tracking interactions with members (of Congress) and writing summaries on Congressional hearings or votes. When members of Congress are visiting the White House, I assist with escorting and welcoming them.
"There is no typical day at the White House. I think that is what makes it so exciting to work here. One day, I am at a speaker series listening to Valerie Jarrett (senior adviser to President Barack Obama) and the next I am at my desk working when I hear the loud propellers of Marine One taking off," Cummings said.
This is her second internship in Washington. Last summer, she was part of the CSB and SJU Washington, D.C., Summer Study Program, interning at the Department of Justice's Office of Legislative Affairs.
"That was one of the best experiences of my life, and I fell in love with the city," Cummings said. "After an unforgettable summer working in the legislative affairs office, I knew I wanted to try it again. I enjoyed the fast-paced environment and constant interaction with Congress.
"The White House Internship program looked like a great opportunity to learn about this topic in the executive branch," said Cummings, who had applied for the program in 2013 but was not accepted. "I applied for a second time and was accepted into the program."
Cummings said one of her biggest role models is Saint John's University graduate and Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
"I think he stood out by working hard and keeping the Benedictine values taught at CSB and SJU with him throughout his career," she said.
Cummings had an opportunity to meet McDonough earlier this summer when she joined with the current cohort from the Summer Study Program to spend some time with him at the White House.
"I could not believe the amount of time the Chief of Staff to the President of the United States took out of his day to meet with the CSB and SJU students," Cummings said. "It was great to hear how he got to where he is today. Mr. McDonough is an example for me and many others that a small-town Minnesotan can make it in this town."
She and some other interns also had a memorable encounter with Obama.
"I met the president when I was walking back to our office with the interns I work for and a member of our staff," Cummings said. "The president asked our names and where we were from. We talked to him about a basketball game we had played the night before. This was one of the most surreal moments of my life and one I will never forget.
"I was blown away by how personable and friendly President Obama is. It is an odd feeling talking to someone who I have admired for so long, but only seen on television — it almost does not seem real," she added.
Her time at the White House will soon be coming to an end, and she will return to CSB.
"It would be difficult to find cities more different than St. Joseph and Washington. I love both cities for different reasons. Washington is always buzzing with news, and everything is done in a fast-paced manner. However, there are days that I miss a quiet cup of coffee at the Local Blend," Cummings said.
"I wish I could take the White House and put it in St. Joseph. I miss my family and friends at home, but do not want to leave this incredible place. Luckily, I have been journaling throughout this process so it is something I will never forget. I have told myself since my first day of work, 'This is going to be one of the best experiences of my life.' I know I will be telling stories about my time at the White House to my children when I am older."
Cummings knows, however, that her experience at CSB and SJU — which includes leadership positions with the CSB Student Senate and the CSB and SJU College Democrats — prepared her well for this experience. She would encourage others to apply to the White House Internship Program.
"Because there are so many offices that cover a wide variety of topics, you do not necessarily need to have a passion for politics to do this," Cummings said. "My advice is that CSB and SJU students who are interested in applying do not let themselves be intimidated by the students from 'big name' schools. CSB and SJU has provided me with an education that not only prepared me for this internship, but also taught me the skills needed to succeed."