We've been seeing a lot of partisan division in America lately, but there's good news—something wonderfully bipartisan has entered the political sphere. A nonprofit called College to Congress (C2C) believes all students—regardless of their socioeconomic status—deserve the opportunity to intern in Congress. Starting this summer, their organization will send college students from both sides of the political aisle to make a difference by interning in Washington, D.C.
Students who have interned in the Capitol know exactly how expensive the city is to live in, preventing many students from lower income families from making those crucial connections they’ll need to work in D.C. after graduation.
When I first heard about C2C, I instantly connected with its mission. After getting in touch with CEO Audrey Henson, I began working as a social media engagement fellow to help students and members of Congress learn more about who we are and how we plan to create positive change.
My passion for this nonprofit was spurred by my own experience interning in D.C. with Florida House. For eight weeks I interned for the nonprofit while also holding an intern position in a Congressional office. Because that opportunity was afforded to me through a generous scholarship, I was able to make long-lasting connections and get a sense of where I wanted to work after graduation and beyond.
Every student deserves the same opportunity I had, and C2C is working to make that happen. To get the insider scoop on C2C, I decided to ask Founder and CEO Audrey Henson some questions about the new political nonprofit.
Photo courtesy Audrey Henson.
Abigail Megginson: Why did you found College to Congress?
Audrey Henson: I founded College to Congress to ensure that others would not have to endure the hardships I faced while starting a career in public service. When I first moved to D.C. in 2012, I couldn’t have been more excited to start my internship on Capitol Hill. I was thrilled to meet new people, learn about the legislative process and experience everything this awesome city has to offer. Part of that experience was also navigating how difficult it can be to live in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. while working as an unpaid congressional intern. An internship on Capitol Hill is a right-of-passage whether you want to work on Capitol Hill, on political campaigns, or in almost any government affairs job you can think of. I knew if I wanted to work in politics, which I did, I had to figure out how to make this work financially. I worked at a restaurant across the street from the Senate during weekdays and took up shifts at J.Crew on the weekends. This experience built resilience and grit and forced me to appreciate every opportunity that came my way. After five years working in politics and mentoring students, I was shocked to see that these internships are still unpaid and are often given to students who can afford the opportunity to move here. That's when I knew something had to be done.
AM: What does C2C do for students and why is it so unique?
AH: You can think of C2C as a one-stop shop for students who are not in the traditional pool of applicants for congressional internships. We believe there are two major barriers preventing students who come from lower and middle class families to intern on Capitol Hill: Access to political operatives in an industry where “who you know” is just as important as what you know, and the financial means to afford the opportunity. So we’ve decided to take on both barriers.
We help our program applicants secure an internship in a Congressional office using the vast network of Hill offices who participate in our program. Once we have secured our participants a summer job, we pay for their flight to DC, summer housing on the Hill, give them a food allowance, and my personal favorite: we hook them up with a new professional wardrobe.
While the clothes, food and housing are a great rewards for our extremely bright students, one of the most valuable parts of our program is the mentorship aspect. We pair our students with mentors who are experienced Capitol Hill staffers, who want to share their expertise, experiences and networks with our students.
AM: What will the program be like for students who receive the scholarship?
AH: Our internship program is eight weeks long and takes place during the busy summer months before Congress heads into recess. This is often an exciting time since budgets and necessary bills must be passed before members of Congress head home for August recess. In addition to all the wonderful experiences a congressional internship provides, our students will network with fellow congressional interns from around the country who are also experiencing D.C. for the first time. Since our students will not have to work a summer job to cover expenses, they get to focus their attention on their work in their office as well as navigating the D.C. social scene.
AM: Are there any perks for C2C interns that a typical D.C. intern would not enjoy?
This is an all-inclusive internship. Our students get the job, housing, food allowance and clothing stipend. We will help them buy suits, dresses and shoes so they fit into the buttoned-up, professional environment of the Hill. In addition to these perks we also provide a weekly Leadership Series. These training sessions range between lessons in formal dining etiquette to personal budgeting and more traditional D.C. workshops on the various jobs as campaign managers, lobbyists, or what it’s like to be a Chief of Staff.
AM: What’s your background?
AH: While at the University of South Florida, I studied political science and theatre. During the summer of my junior year, I decided I had to narrow down which route I would pursue after I graduated, so what better way to do that then fully immersing myself into each option? I started with politics.
I moved to D.C. for a summer to intern for a congressman from my home state of Texas. It didn’t take long for me to realize D.C. is where I belonged. Everyone I met was incredibly intelligent, engaging and cared about our nation as much as I did. After that summer, I returned home to complete by degree and simultaneously interned for Sen. Marco Rubio. Since graduation, I’ve been very fortunate to work in many aspects across the political spectrum, from working on the official side as an aid to a congressman, to the campaign side where among many accomplishments, I helped Rep. Elise Stefanik in her successful campaign to become the youngest woman ever elected to congress.
D.C. continues to remain my favorite place in the world because people are constantly experimenting with their lives and careers to ensure they are doing exactly what they were put on this earth to do. There is no place like it, and I can’t wait to introduce our C2C students to my city.
AM: Whom is C2C going to impact the most?
AH: The immediate impact will of course be our program attendees. They will experience a life-changing summer working on Capitol Hill in one of the most diverse cities in the world. In addition, though, my overarching goal is to see these students use their experience to work on policy that will affect their communities. Our students have seen how policy shaped in D.C. affects people throughout every community, so who better than them to fix it?
Audrey Henson meets with students from American University at the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
AM: Where do you see the nonprofit in five years?
AH: Our 2017 goal is to send six students to Congress this summer. A very ambitious goal since the cost of each intern is around $10,000 a student, and we were formed less than one year ago. In the coming years, I have big dreams for College to Congress. Among them would include expanding our program to the fall and spring semesters, as well as sending as many students as our budget will allow. I’m also very much looking forward to the success of our future C2C alumni and having them stay involved in our mentorship program.
AM: Is C2C affiliated with a certain political party?
AH: Believe it or not, D.C. isn’t as partisan as the cable news shows will have you to believe. We work with everyone! Look no further than the makeup of our Board of Directors to see how much we value bipartisanship and working together. We take the same approach when pairing our students and make sure to pair our students in offices that align with their values and beliefs.
AM: How can students stay up to date on what C2C is doing?
AM: How can readers become a C2C intern?
AH: As I mentioned, we are sending our first round of students this summer. The application process began on Feb. 15 and ends March 31. We would love to have students who are reading this apply. All they have to do is visit our application page and submit their application to be considered as a potential C2C intern.
AM: Anything else you want to share about C2C?
AH: Figuring out what you want to do with your life is a pretty daunting task—but I think it’s important to realize that you don’t have to have all the answers right now. I meet people all the time who have had successful tenures in one industry and then decide to try something completely different. Look no further than Megyn Kelly as proof that these professional experiments can often end in massive success and happiness.
I’ve always believed it is just as important to know what you don’t want to do, as it is to know what you do want and the only way to figure that out is through new experiences. Interested in journalism? Go intern for The New York Times. Interested in fashion? Look into Vogue. Interested in politics? Apply to College to Congress.