Mass students working in the White House

By Staff

Amid the over 750 political science majors at the University of Massachusetts, two UMass students have landed the highly distinguished White House internship, and are currently working in Washington, D.C. for this spring semester.

Laurie Roberts, a sophomore, who has been at UMass for three semesters before moving to D.C. for the internship, said she “jumped at the opportunity to be a White House intern,” figuring the hands-on experience would be a productive step towards her career goal of working for the government after college. After receiving an email from the political science department, Roberts felt the internship was “a perfect fit” for her because of her experience volunteering for President Barack Obama’s campaign, “Obama for America” in 2008. Roberts also caucused in the Maine Democratic Convention for a progressive candidate in 2010.

“This program has opened doors for me I never even knew existed,” said Roberts in an email interview that had to be cleared by White House officials before it could be sent back to this reporter. “I’m learning so much about how the Executive Office of the President works, and how government moves through the various offices and elements within them.”
Roberts feels that her internship is not only aiding in increasing her knowledge of how government functions, but also aligning her in a better position for future job prospects.

“I’m receiving a lot of guidance and mentorship from people in my office and department about steps to take after college and what fields I may be interested in entering when I begin applying for jobs,” said Roberts.

“Everyone in this building is here for a reason, and everyone has a remarkable story about what they’ve done and how they ended up working for President Obama,” continued Roberts. “It is an honor to serve the President in the company of these people, and to work in public service for a President I truly believe in.”

For junior Benjamin Levine, the other UMass student interning at the White House, the program is “the best internship anyone can have.” Levine has previously interned for Governor Deval Patrick. At UMass, Levine has been an active member of the Student Government Association, serving as a senator for three years, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and secretary of finance. Levine’s responses also had to be cleared by officials before they could be released to the Collegian.

“I vividly remember sitting in Professor Stifler’s ‘Economics and the Literary Imagination’ course in Machmer Hall when I got an email on my Blackberry,” said Levine. “I quickly scanned the sender and subject line which read ‘WH Internship Program re: Congratulations…’ As soon as I saw the word ‘congratulations’ I jumped out of my seat, ran out of the classroom and read the email. I have honestly never been more excited about anything in my life.” After calling family members and taking about 15 minutes to let the reality soak in, Levine returned to class as it ended, apologized to Stifler and told him that he’d remember Stifler’s lecture on “The White Tiger” forever.

“No matter what you are studying or plan to be, the White House can provide unique experiences … To be a White House intern is a privilege and an honor which alone is an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Levine. “In terms of learning experiences, interns learn new things everyday about the government, the world, and themselves.”

Using and Gaining Experiences – From UMass to the White House

Levine is interning in the office of National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, while Roberts is interning for White House Operations, which means the two students have different daily tasks.

Levine said that his day nearly always begin with a routine check of his email to see if anything urgent needs to be completed. If nothing pressing is on the morning agenda, Levine eats a little breakfast and reads the White House news bulletin before diving into his work, which might include “helping schedule Sperling’s meetings, assisting with memos for Sperling or conducting research on an array of economic issues.”

“I would say that because UMass is so large, with no one there holding your hand through your four years, I have developed a truly unique sense of independence and work ethic,” said Levine.

“The White House is a work environment that is fast paced. I believe that were it not for UMass’ way of throwing their students into ‘the real world’ right out of high school, I would not be as mentally prepared for the work I do.”

In regards Levine’s academic experience, said that UMass’ political science and economics departments are “some of the best in the country.”

“The position papers I had to write for my political science classes easily translated into position memos I have to write here at work,” said Levine.

Levine also said that his defining college experience was being a member of the University’s SGA.

“There is no way one can teach leadership – it can only be learned,” said Levine. “My years, experiences and both professional and personal growth in the SGA are arguably the best education and preparation for my duties as a White House intern.”
Roberts also feels as though both her character as well as her experience at UMass has prepared her for her role in D.C.
Roberts said a “typical day in White House Operations is very rare,” and that her intern tasks differ almost daily.

“I don’t often feel overwhelmed,” said Roberts. Roberts said the White House Operations staff is “very helpful” in answering her questions and preparing her for assignments.

“However, the learning curve has been fairly steep, as Operations is a fast-moving office,” said Roberts. “I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been ‘trained’ so much as learned on the job – quickly.”

“It’s been up to me to observe my supervisors, take criticism and use logic to accomplish what I’ve been asked to do,” continued Roberts.

“[At UMass] I learned how to get work done independently, which has served me well here” she said. “Writing three papers and studying for a final all in the same day has prepared me for juggling multiple assignments over the course of the internship, as well as staying on top of long-term projects.”

Roberts also said her involvement in the Political Science Undergraduate Board, among other extra-curricular activities, helped her develop stronger leadership skills.

Family, the Future and the American Dream
A future in politics is what Roberts foresees for herself, but presently, her only immediate plans are to graduate from UMass and move back to D.C. to find work for a progressive organization or a politician Roberts finds has agreeable viewpoints. And to most, those goals come as no surprise, given Roberts’ fascination with politics began before she hit high school. She attributes much of her interest in politics to the importance her parents’ have placed upon being informed citizens, and she also said her parents tend to agree with her political stances.

“My parents were as ecstatic as I was when I told them I’d been accepted into the program,” said Roberts. “I was raised in a very liberal household that often participated in events and rallies for Democratic causes.”

“I am very intrigued by the ‘game’ that is played in D.C.,” she said. “Every word is chosen carefully and every initiative is carefully weighed against the possible negatives and how it will affect elections years away.”

She added, “I have very strong beliefs and convictions, and I think politics is a great bastion through which to affect positive change that I believe in.”

Levine’s family members were also excited at Levine’s selection.

“My entire family is thrilled,” said Levine. “In their minds, not only did I make it to the White House; they made it to the White House.”

Levine said that his grandfather, a survivor of the Holocaust, is particularly moved by his grandson’s internship.
“My family believes that it is a true blessing for a man to come to the United States with no more family to speak of and see his grandson work in the White House,” said Levine.

In terms of political views, Levine said his parents are “fiscal conservatives but not to the point where they would vote for someone who had social positions they disagreed with,” and that he tends to agree on most political issues with them.
Levine said there is no single factor that makes the White House internship so amazing.

“Working in the White House has been a dream of mine and for me to just be in the building is such a treat,” said Levine. “Another great part of this internship is that there are great lectures by senior staff and brown bag lunches with NEC staffers. Getting to know these people beyond the press coverage has been a fantastic opportunity.

“I also have to say that my fellow NEC interns have made this experience what it is,” continued Levine. “We have become so close over the past few months and working with such talented and interesting people makes the late nights in the office fun. Seeing the President walk by now and again is also a major perk!”

Levine, who found his spark of interest in politics from his Advanced Placement Government class, looks to stay close to politics in his future career and is looking to stay in D.C. to “either work on a campaign or for a member of Congress.” He said he hopes to attend law school within the decade, and then find work in the private sector as a consultant for multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations and other international bodies on issues such as trade and geopolitical strategy. Levine said his long-term goal is to end up back in the White House one day, and that his dream job would be to one day become White House Chief of Staff.

“I know that my experiences at the White House will help me accomplish these goals because working here has taught me the value of excellence, in every sense of the word,” said Levine. “The White House has taught me to never settle or accept mediocrity. As corny as this sounds, the White House taught me to believe that anything is truly possible if I work hard for it because in all honesty, I never thought I would be here.”

Alyssa Creamer can be reached [email protected]