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University of Montevallo students intern through The Washington Center

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“I need a job, but employers say, ‘I need someone with experience.’ But how can I get experience if no one will give me a job?” This dilemma has plagued college graduates and other young job seekers for many years, and the University of Montevallo has an answer – internships.

While many students at UM have access to internships in their field prior to graduation, one program in particular is especially prestigious for students who will be seeking a career in public service. For the past four years, UM has partnered with The Washington Center (TWC) in Washington, D.C., to send one or two students each year to spend the summer participating in an array of program activities including interning with a Washington-based organization that matches the student’s interests; attending talks by high-profile individuals in politics, journalism and other professional fields; receiving career counseling; participating in service activities; and taking an academic course related to the student’s interest.

Founded in 1975, The Washington Center is the largest academic internship program in the world. Each year, 1,600 students from nearly 500 affiliated colleges and universities participate in internship programs in public service. For a university like Montevallo that places a high premium on service learning and civic engagement, this is a natural partnership.

During the summer of 2013, UM sent Rachael Swokowski of Enterprise and Natalia Langner of Shelby to participate in TWC’s program.

Langner worked with Becky’s Fund, a non-profit organization focused on assisting victims of domestic violence. She not only learned to help people who have experienced domestic violence, but also learned about the legal aspects, both national and international, and the circumstances surrounding the issue. She said, “I am beyond honored to have had this opportunity because I learned how to integrate my classroom knowledge to real life situations; I learned how to advocate for my clients, but also how to advocate for myself in terms of seeking opportunities for career development instead of passively waiting for them to arrive. Being in D.C. made me feel like anything is possible as far as making my dreams come true and having the opportunity to bring social change.”

Julia Maloney, who interned with TWC in 2012, worked at the National Whistleblower Center, a non-profit organization aimed at protecting whistleblowers from unfair workplace retaliation. She worked alongside law students and attorneys on the largest protection claim since the field was established, helped petition Congress for change in whistleblower protection law, and conducted research for claims arising specifically from racially charged settings. She said, “Interning in Washington taught me that there is always something better, something bigger, something higher to reach for, which I now recognize is an incredibly important lesson to learn.” Maloney graduated from UM in May and now works with Impact Alabama, a non-profit organization in Birmingham that provides free vision screenings for preschool-age children all across the state. Impact Alabama also accepts student volunteers, passing along the opportunity for experience to the next crop of job seekers.

Other University of Montevallo graduates who have interned at The Washington Center include Jenna Johnson, who graduated from UM in 2012 and received a scholarship to Georgetown University to study law; Rachel Wolfe, who also graduated in 2012 and was hired the day following the end of her internship as the public affairs fellow at the Office of Public Affairs of the Baha’is of the United States. Morgan Wilson, UM’s first intern with TWC, currently works for the National Governors Association after interning with them through the program.

According to Dr. Scott Turner, professor of political science at UM, “Our students have invariably received outstanding evaluations and are doing a great job of establishing a positive reputation for Montevallo in the nation’s capital.” In keeping with the university’s mission statement, they also are experiencing “intellectual and personal growth in the pursuit of meaningful employment and responsible, informed citizenship.”