The Nation’s Capital, Up Close

Her semester in Washington, D.C., allowed Ali Watson ’20 to observe the government in action.

By: Meghan Kita  Wednesday, February 20, 2019 09:12 AM

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Ali Watson ’20 spent last fall in Washington, D.C., as part of the Lutheran College Washington Semester. Photo courtesy of Ali Watson ’20.

Last fall, Ali Watson ’20 worked as a press intern for U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington. Cantwell is known for being more interested in legislating than in engaging in the political circus, but that doesn’t mean Watson’s time in her office was uneventful: Watson started her internship the week of the vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

“A bunch of news networks were showing protests that were inside office buildings on the Hill. The big one that happened—the one Amy Schumer was at, where she got arrested—that was in the building I was working in,” says Watson, a history and political science double major. “All the interns went into the hallway to watch.”

For Watson, who calls herself “a poli-sci nerd,” the experience of living in D.C., working in government and being present for something most of the country saw on television was years in the making. When she was looking at colleges, she felt torn between her desire to stay in a big city—she has dual citizenship in the United States and Ireland, and split her time growing up between Philadelphia and Dublin—and her interest in small, liberal arts colleges, many of which are located in suburban or rural environments. Her mother discovered that Muhlenberg offered the Lutheran College Washington Semester, a program that combines an internship experience with coursework in Washington, D.C., and Watson was sold. “Ever since I got on campus, I was planning on doing it,” she says.

And she was planning on interning with the State Department, which meant she had to submit applications almost six months in advance: Positions with government agencies require more lead time than congressional internships. She accepted an offer in early summer, and once her background check came through, she’d be cleared to start. However, the check stalled, and after a few weeks in D.C. with no word, she started searching for other opportunities.

In her position as a press intern in Cantwell’s office, Watson tracked media coverage of the senator and of the issues important to her. She collaborated on documents to help prepare Cantwell for meetings, events and interviews, researching who would be there and what issues might come up. Because she was a press intern and not a legislative intern, Watson says, her work had a more immediate effect—her legislative counterparts often were tasked with researching issues or proposed legislation, and the lawmaking process has a much longer timeline than the press process.

Watson is in Edinburgh, Scotland, this semester—students can choose to go abroad in addition to the D.C. semester—but she’ll be returning to the D.C. area this summer for an internship in Deloitte’s Government & Public Services Office. “There’s a lot you can learn about the government in a classroom,” Watson says. “But there really was something, an X factor, that could only be understood having worked there.”