It’s easy to catch “Potomac Fever” when students intern in Washington, D.C.
But graduates from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University help perpetuate that fever each year through the Washington, D.C., Summer Study program. Despite being 1,200 miles from the two campuses, the students find open doors in D.C.
Program “veterans” who return to D.C. to work professionally open their doors to the newest interns, understanding the impact that the program had on their own careers. By doing so, they exemplify the Benedictine Values of hospitality, community and listening.
Seven members of the CSB/SJU classes of 2017 and 2018 hosted this summer’s interns in the program for brunch July 10 at the home of Meghan Mullon, CSB ’18. These young alumni of the program pay it forward each summer by speaking at seminars, doing informational interviews and hosting the most recent cohort of interns.
For Mullon, the D.C. program “was the crown jewel of my experience at CSB/SJU. As a matter of fact, I chose to go to CSB/SJU over two other schools largely because of the D.C. program and how many accomplished alums came from it.
“We live in a world now where, if young people want to become involved in decision making on the national level, they have to get internships in Congress, with trade organizations and with the executive branch. Whether it’s fair or not, it is now extraordinarily difficult to succeed in politics and policy without those experiences. I love Minnesota, but that’s just not available there. The D.C. program is really effective at bridging that gap,” Mullon said.
This is hardly a one-time shot.
Two years ago, Chase Kroll, SJU ’11, hosted the 2019 group on the rooftop of his employer. He and his wife, Jen (Tong) Kroll, CSB ’10, participated in the Summer Study program together during the summer of 2009 and are now frequent seminar speakers and willing to connect with students in interviews. Last year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the alums in D.C. even hosted a “virtual” brunch.
The D.C. Alumni chapter, led by Colin Frederick, SJU ’11, Jake Patrick Collins, SJU ’16 and Mackenzie Kuhl, CSB ’19, is one of the strongest in the country. All three caught “Potomac Fever” as participants of the D.C. Summer Study program while students and returned after graduation and now lead the alumni efforts there.
Each year the students build on experiences of prior years. Current program director Dr. Christi Siver and Sheila Hellermann, who has coordinated the program for nine years, have existing relationships with sites, internship coordinators and alumnae/i.
The CSB/SJU Summer Study program is unique in that it is an academic program, organized and run by CSB/SJU political science faculty, who travel to Washington to host the seminars and conduct site visits. In many cases, the site visits are with graduates or the places of employment of CSB/SJU alumnae/i. During these visits, site supervisors consistently remark on the materials and preparedness of the students from the D.C. program, as compared to other applicants.
Other schools around the country contract with third party companies or send students on their own. At CSB/SJU it is an academic program, which students complete for credit, and their experiential engagement designation. Work during the summer consists of readings, journals and a final paper, in addition to completing their internship.
The preparation for the summer begins the preceding fall, with applications. Once accepted, through the late-fall, winter break and spring semester, students work with the directors and coordinator on cover letters, résumé and professional development specific to Washington, D.C.
Mullon notes that the program brings value, not just to the students who participate, but to the schools.
“The program brings name recognition to CSB/SJU. Many of the people I work with on Capitol Hill know of CSB/SJU because they hosted an intern from the program in their office, someone now works with them who had participated in the program while in undergrad, or they are friends with a Bennie or Johnnie who moved to D.C. after participating in the program,” Mullon said.
While the program is coordinated by the political science faculty, it is open to all majors at CSB/SJU. It has participants from economics, environmental studies, communication and majors like chemistry and biochemistry, whose students are interested in spending a summer working on policy issues related to their field at the national level, before applying to grad school or medical school.
Another program alum, Nick Harbeck, SJU ’17, was a double-major in chemistry and political science, completing the D.C. program during the summer of 2016. He returned to D.C. after receiving an employment offer from the site where he was a research and regulatory affairs intern, AHRI, a trade association representing heating and cooling companies.
Returning to D.C. post-graduation and an internship site is not unique to Harbeck.
“AHRI was able to financially assist my pursuit of a master's degree, which was a huge help and a secret additional benefit of the D.C. program,” Harbeck said. “I know others have also received some tuition and continuing education assistance from their jobs.”
This 42-year-old CSB/SJU program emphasizes community, as the community from CSB/SJU shifts to D.C. and students live together on the same floor of an apartment building and find D.C. program connections and open doors all around the city.