Heading to work on the first day of her internship, Kendall Schreiberg found herself in a line of people in suits and ties. The environment was intimidating and made her wonder, “What am I doing walking into the White House?”
Schreiberg, a fourth-year political science student, was on her way to her internship program in the Office of Presidential Correspondence, which communicates with people who have written to the president.
She applied to the program in January after seeing it posted on the White House website, but was surprised when she found out she was accepted to such a competitive internship, she said.
“(When I was accepted) I was very concerned because I had never lived in another place for months at a time outside of Southern California,” Schreiberg said. “(But) I was super excited.”
Chloe Pan, a third-year international development studies and Asian American studies student, was similarly surprised when she was accepted to an internship program with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders last summer.
“I remember when I got the first email. … I almost fell off of my bed because I was not expecting it at all,” Pan said.
When Pan was an intern, she helped organize the White House Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Youth Forum, which brought together about 100 student leaders from across the country, she said.
Schreiberg and Pan had no experience working at a federal level of government before, but they said they adapted quickly to their new jobs.
A typical day for Schreiberg involved sorting through letters from across the country. She estimated that she received thousands over the course of the summer.
Schreiberg said her main responsibility was to send a response to each letter. She would sometimes send a policy memo or direct the writer to a more specific office, depending on his or her questions.
Marty Browne, a third-year political science and communications student at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who worked with Schreiberg, said he was impressed by Schreiberg’s work ethic, especially considering the volume of mail they received each day.
“Our main focus was making sure that the American people got a response on behalf of the president, and just making sure that their voices were heard,” said Browne.
Schreiberg said the correspondence she received ranged from questions about gun control to personal thanks to the president for the Affordable Care Act. She also had to deal with threats written to the president, she said.
Schreiberg and Browne both said that because of the confidential nature of their jobs, they could not reveal much about the contents of the letters they received or specific responses they gave.
Schreiberg said her favorite letters were those that came from citizens who thanked the president for the work he did while in office, particularly about the Affordable Care Act.
“It really gave you a unique look into how impactful the work White House staffers are doing (is), and that their work really does matter,” Schreiberg said.
Schreiberg said one of the most memorable parts of her internship experience was hearing President Barack Obama give a speech to the summer interns because it allowed gave her a once-in-a-lifetime chance to interact with him and ask questions.
“It was very cool to see him … 10 feet in front of us and listen to him be very candid and open with us,” Browne said. “How many times in your life does the president give you advice?”
Schreiberg also participated in the speaker series, a weekly meeting where senior staffers, including Vice President Joe Biden, gave interns career advice and answered questions about their road to the White House.
While she can’t see herself running for office in the future, Schreiberg said her work in the White House will have a lasting impact on her view of politics.
“Sometimes, you just hear the negative impact of politics, but it really opened my eyes to how many lives have been bettered,” Schreiberg said.
Pan said she agreed the experience showed her the impact of the work done in the White House, but added she thinks future interns should remain critical.
“Once you get into these very prestigious places, it can be very easy to get caught up in the fancy titles of the places that you’re working at,” Pan said. “It’s important to remind yourself why you’re there and that the work you’re doing is actually doing good for the community.”