Although it can seem a little daunting at first, interning in Washington, D.C. is one of the most formative experiences a student can have. After interning in both the private and public sector, I have found that some practices are best practices, no matter where you intern. Here are some tips to get the most out of your internship experience:
I was somewhat bewildered my first week at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) by the unending acronyms used to describe everything from organization names, to standardized tests, to new laws. When it got to the point where there were whole sentences I could not understand, I realized I should start asking questions – and did!
You are probably working with people you’ve never met before, so there is no way they can know all of your needs and vice versa. This goes along with asking questions, but extends to following up with projects, updating your supervisor on your progress and knowing when to ask for help. Pro tip: If you communicate with your supervisors, you will not be that intern who shows up on a snow day when the building is closed (or you could just download the OPM app).
During my second semester at ED, I was in the ID Office with a few other interns and we got to talking. It turned out one of them was roommates with a woman with whom I had studied abroad in Brazil, and the other intern and I had a class together at American University. I met another intern also in the badging office my very first day at ED, and we still keep in touch even though it has been months since he returned to Indiana for school.
It’s also important to connect with the employees in and out of your office. Ask them to coffee, invite them to lunch or offer to help them with a project. Everyone is very busy, but they are happy to take time to get to know you. I will never forget when I introduced myself as an intern and an ED employee whom I had never met before exclaimed, “I love interns!”
Take Advantage of Every Opportunity
Most internships offer opportunities to attend interesting events in D.C., participate in brown bag lunches and meet senior staff. I’ve been able to tour the White House and Supreme Court, meet two Secretaries of Education and go to a Wizards basketball game with other interns. The people in my office have also invited me to events outside of work, such as Women in Foreign Policy panels at the Department of State and this year’s Washington Area Model United Nations Conference.
Through the ED Goes Back to School visit series I was able to visit not one, but three schools serving students in grades Pre-K through 8th and really get a feel for what education is like in the District. I also had the opportunity to help plan this month’s ParentCamp International, which brought over 200 parents and community leaders representing immigrant and refugee communities in the DMV area to the Department of Education. And all I had to do to get involved was show up – it’s that easy!
Marina Kelly is an intern in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education. She will graduate from American University in May 2016 and will attend the University of Minnesota for graduate school in the fall.
Thinking about the Meaning of ‘Green’ as We Recognize Schools, Districts, and Colleges this Earth Day
U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) began in 2011-2012, recognizing 78 green schools. In 2012-2013, ED added a District Sustainability Award and honored 64 schools and 14 districts. The 2013-2014 cycle had 48 school honorees and 9 district honorees. 2014-2015 brought 58 schools, 14 districts, and nine first-ever Postsecondary Sustainability Award recipients.
For the fifth consecutive year, to celebrate Earth Day, the U.S. Secretary of Education announced the 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), including District Sustainability Awardees and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. Joined by Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Christy Goldfuss, Secretary King celebrated the 47 schools, 15 districts, and 11 postsecondary institutions chosen this year for their leadership in reducing environmental impact and utility costs, promoting better health for students and staff, and offering effective sustainability education.
As I think reflect on these first five years of our award, I sometimes wonder if “green” was the best choice of name, since it leads to occasional misinterpretation. To be clear, we define a “green” or “sustainable” school, as a healthy, efficient learning environment where school budgets are not drained by utility costs and students can use their very school building (whether older or new) as a learning tool.
It’s a school where students eat fresh – often student-grown and local – food, and participate in plenty of outdoors physical activity and learning. Green schools ensure healthy water and air, and a clean, educationally appropriate school facility that enables, rather than encumbers, learning.
Lastly, a green school is a place where students learn authentically indoors and, just as often, out, through hands-on projects that connect them to their school campus, community, and world, preparing them with subject matter and thinking skills to take on the careers and broader societal challenges of our future.
During a year of renewed attention to the state of our nation’s school infrastructure, I hope other schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions can take heart and inspiration from our 2016 honorees’ efforts, this year, more than ever. You can read about what works in facility, health, and sustainability learning in our Highlights of the 2016 Honorees Report.
Understanding now that sustainable schools aren’t an add-on to a quality education, but rather a necessary foundation, all schools can find free resources available through our Green Strides portal to advance in our Pillars and move toward the achievements of these honorees. You can stay up to date with other opportunities for your school with our Facebook, Twitter, and newsletter.
With these tools, your school, district or postsecondary institution may be eligible to apply in your state for one if its nominations to U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools in the coming cycle. Schools, districts and postsecondary institutions are encouraged to contact their state education authorities for more information on state applications published in the summer or fall. While a few state authorities don’t yet participate, hearing from interested schools may change that.
I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, I’d be thrilled to put this award out of business. Call it green, sustainable, or something else – let’s have every school meet these standards of sustainable excellence!
Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and ED’s Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison.