Washington Internships Give Capital Gains

Students Sharpen Career Skills in D.C. Program

Nicholas Bernardo, third from left, with his brother, Patrick, a UMass Lowell freshman, his mother Cathleen Bernardo and grandfather, David Pelley, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Nicholas Bernardo, third from left, with his brother, Patrick, a UMass Lowell freshman, his mother Cathleen Bernardo and grandfather, David Pelley, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

10/27/2011
By Jill Gambon

Recent UMass Lowell graduate Jeanna McCarthy likens her summer internship in Washington, D.C. to a stint on the reality TV show “The Apprentice.”
    
Quick-turnaround group projects and high-pressure presentations, complete with last-minute curveballs, gave McCarthy a taste of the real-world demands of the professional workplace, all crammed into a 10-week internship program.

“I learned so much more than I ever thought I could in 10 weeks,” says McCarthy, who interned in the District of Columbia’s Office of Contracting and Procurement. “It was really rewarding.” 

McCarthy was participating in a program offered through the The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC), the largest program of its kind in the country.  For more than 10 years, dozens of UMass Lowell students have taken part in TWC’s programs, earning up to 12 credits while working for government agencies, media outlets, nonprofits, law firms, lobbyists and private companies in and around the nation’s capital.

In addition to doing internships at places like the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, the Washington Post and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, students  take one class among the 40 or so that TWC offers each semester and participate in a leadership forum, which features guest lectures, tours and panel discussions with government, military and business leaders.  They also complete a community engagement project and prepare a final portfolio of all their work.  

“Students come back with impressive portfolios,” says Priscilla March, associate director of Career Services at UMass Lowell.

Nicholas Bernardo, a senior English major, spent last spring semester writing scripts, editing videos, crafting press releases and sharpening his social media know-how at a TWC internship with RedEye, a boutique video production company in Alexandria, Va. He had previously done a communications internship at the Merrimack Valley Repertory Theatre, but wanted more experience to help him stand out in the job market. “I needed to give myself a competitive edge,” he says. “I thought, if I can thrive in the nation’s capital, I can thrive anywhere.”
  
Bernardo took a class called Power, Politics and Prose, during which he studied documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address and then visited related historic sites. Looking back, Bernardo says he gained confidence in his abilities during the five-month experience. “I was challenged to constantly think outside the box.  When I started, I hated public speaking. Now I can get up in front of a group of people. I feel like a different person,” he says.
 
In addition to the professional and classroom experience, student interns build professional contacts while in Washington, says Prof. Frank Talty, director of academic programs for the Division of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and an adviser to UMass Lowell students participating in TWC’s program.  “Our students develop a network of people from all over the country,” he says.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” says McCarthy, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics after finishing the internship program.  In addition to learning how to prepare a resume and hone her job interview performance, McCarthy sharpened her project management, problem-solving and public speaking skills.

 “I worked hard. It prepared me to start my career,” says McCarthy, who hopes to return to Washington for work and eventually attend law school.