Dog days on Capitol Hill don't lay up student interns

by Charles Gardner | 8/22/03 5:00am

For a wanderer who's strayed off the guided tour, Capitol Hill has become an August wonderland.

The halls of power lie empty this month in the nation's capital, as members of Congress take their annual recess. But while the legislative chambers see only tourist traffic during the dog days of August, Capitol Hill remains busy, as student interns and researchers continue their work even in the midst of the late summer doldrums.

D.C. interns working on Capitol Hill can typically expect to attend hearings and press conferences during their stays, but with little going on politically most work instead involves long lunches at the Senate cafeteria, catching up on mail, filing duties and other less glamorous tasks.

Kady Tremaine, a senior at Brown interning at the office of Christopher Shays, R-Conn., described the normally frenetic Washington atmosphere as "a lot less fast-paced" during a month when there is little to be done outside office rooms.

The slow season is not without its small perks, however -- with Congress out of session and blazing summertime temperatures still in force, many offices permit their staffers and interns to wear more casual attire than is required during all other months, Tremaine said.

Working as an intern for Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Alexander Taylor '04 has taken advantage of the lull to become involved in the office of the Chief of Staff.

With "very little" legislative work to be done in August, Taylor said working for the office has given him given him an inside look at Alexander's day-to-day schedule in one of the nation's most elite clubs.

"I've gotten to see firsthand how the Senator spends his time and chooses which events to attend," he said. "I've seen the inner logic of staff hiring, and I've done a good bit of letter drafting."

But Capitol Hill internships are not the only ones affected by the slower pace of events in August.

Dan Preysman '04, who has spent the summer working at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a foreign policy think tank, said his own research has not been slowed by the absence of many full-time employees, but agreed that the arrival of August has seen things quiet down.

"I know people who were unable to get in touch with folks to conduct their research," said Preysman, who is examining conflict in Congo and U.N. rapid reaction capabilities for the Carnegie Endowment.

Still, in spite of do-nothing August days when two-hour strolls around the Dirksen Building's corridors become the norm, such internships are still a prized part of any college student's resume.

And in light of the current economic downturn, the search for internships has become more important than ever before, according to Career Services cutreach/marketing coordinator Teresa Hawko, who emphasized the crucial role of internship experience in a tight job market.

Interns also extolled the benefits of a Washington internship, fast-paced or otherwise.

"At school you don't get as much of a chance to keep up with current events or learn about how things work in D.C.," Tremaine said. "I've had the chance to learn about the whole political process in a way that I never could have otherwise."