My time in Washington thus far has been divided among my internship here at NETWORK, my public policy classes, and exploring the city. Luckily for me these experiences are not mutually exclusive, or at least the internship and classes aren’t. I am currently taking classes on bureaucratic organization, the ethics of policy making, the strategies behind effective policy making decisions, and the interpretation and manipulation of numerical data. Each class has allowed me to gain greater insight into the world of public policy, but I have to admit that at times learning about bureaucracy and policy can be tedious or even downright boring. Perhaps the most helpful learning tool for me has been the application of what I have been taught to my experience at NETWORK.
One of the focuses of my curriculum is clear and concise policy-writing. The director of the fellowship is determined to make us into unstoppable policy-writing experts. Weekly, we have one or two memos to write with topics ranging from how to run a government agency to the evaluation of the statistics presented in the Republican Party’s “Pledge to America.” Although the memos were related to the classes I am taking, after writing them I wasn’t sure quite how I benefitted from them, other than knowing far too much about how difficult it is to be the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or being more wary when reading statistics presented by a political party. And then one day last week, Simone gave me a report to read and summarize for her, asking me to focus on certain aspects of it that relate to NETWORK’s position on the issue. My brain immediately jumped into memo mode and I rapidly began to read and analyze the information before me. About half way through the memo, it hit me that what I was doing allowed me to put to use what I had been learning about for over month. There have only been a few times in my academic career that I have been able to clearly pinpoint something I have been doing that directly relates to something I learned in a classroom, and this was one of them.
The correlation between my classwork and my internship go beyond my writing assignments. I have seen the process of cost-benefit analysis (which I learned in my ethics class) when deciding what particular issues NETWORK is going to push for during a certain period of time when Congress is in session. I have also seen how different strategies can be used when lobbying for the support of a Congress member who may not share the same position on an issue that we do. The one trait of bureaucracies I have learned excessively about but have yet to witness at NETWORK is inefficiency. My professor is constantly reiterating how bureaucratic organizations can easily lose focus of their mission and slip into complacency with the status quo. Although this is characteristic of government agencies, private organizations are susceptible to the same attitude. Fortunately, I do not see this becoming a problem at NETWORK, ever. I am privileged to be interning here this semester because I can put what I have learned into practice in an environment filled with people who are passionate about what they do, and are relentlessly working to achieve change for the common good. Mark Twain once said, “I don’t let schooling interfere with my education,” but from my experience, I think this is one time when that’s ok.