Inside Washington Seminar

The most important experiences of your college career may not be in a traditional classroom. Internships provide the opportunity for you to make valuable connections as you apply what you are learning on campus to real-world situations. BYU’s Washington Seminar program is an excellent way about 40 students experience internships each semester.

>>The deadline to apply for Winter 2022 semester is September 24, 2021. Visit 945 KMBL or http://washingtonseminar.byu.edu. BYU has a database of 1,500 internships in the Washington area.

Through the program, well-qualified students have an applied learning experience in Washington, D.C. BYU houses interns on its own property, the Barlow Center, which is conveniently situated in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. Engaging in a quality internship, briefings on current issues, tours, excursions, and weekly guest speakers supplements students’ academic training and better prepares them for a variety of careers.

“Washington Seminar is one of the crown jewels of BYU,” 2020-21 program director Dr. Jay Goodliffe said. “BYU has invested heavily in resources in D.C. because they realize the opportunities our students have there will then help them influence the world.”

The Washington Seminar program accepts students from all colleges and majors. We talked to four outstanding students from the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences about what it’s like to participate in the program and how living in Washington has enhanced their vision of future possibilities.

Olivia DeMordaunt

Q: Where were you an intern?

A: National Defense University. It functions like a military academy for people who want to get a master’s degree in national security. I work in the International Student Management Office (ISMO). The “students” are mid-career military professionals. One-fourth of the cohort are generals from around the world—there are 130 generals from 65 countries. They are chosen by their respective countries to come.

These are men and women who have commanded whole armies and navies. I try to honor and respect them in asking about their lives and their careers.

olivia demordaunt, senior studying political science

Q: It must have been interesting to be with seasoned generals from all over the world. Tell me about it.

A: These are men and women who have commanded whole armies and navies. It’s a weird experience for them to come to the United States and be under somebody’s responsibility again. We are a support office to help them adjust to the United States, find housing, schools for their kids, etc. while they are here for a year, so they can focus on their experience and not have to worry about the difficult things that come with adjusting to a new place. I try my best to honor and respect them in asking them about their lives and their careers and why they chose what they do.

Q: What was a favorite experience you’ve had on your internship?

A: Eight students in joint armed war services came up to D.C. for five days and do a tour. They were going to Arlington National Cemetery and I got to go with them as an escort. During the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I was talking to a man from England and he had been a member of the Queen’s Guard. He had served with Prince William and Prince Harry in Afghanistan and had done tours with them. He has all this intense training that he has to do to guard the queen, and he has to learn to talk without moving his lips. It was so fascinating to learn about that part of the culture in the United Kingdom and to be walking around with this incredible man, learning about his life and his culture and why he decided to do what he did.

Austin Brady

Q: Where were you an intern?

A: I’m with a group called International Business-Government Counsellors (IBC). They are an international consulting and lobbying firm. The big mission is to provide research and information to their clients. They serve a lot of big companies that you would recognize.

An example of what they do is give information on sanctions. Say company X has business in China. There might be some laws coming down about trade with China. What are those laws, how will it affect the company, what should they do to be prepared? An IBC counselor would tell them.

Q: What is your day-to-day?

A: I did a mix of attending various hearings, like congressional hearings, and taking notes for the counsellors, and other small events—attending panels and doing write-ups on those. Occasionally I’d do other projects, like digging into a specific tariff bill or digging into congressional members and seeing if they’ve said anything scandalous that might get the company into some trouble if they donate to them. I do a weekly update about China and trade news, and human rights news.

Q: It sounds like you are probably in the know about a lot of things dealing with international relations that the average person isn’t.

A: It’s more niche China stuff, or I was keeping track of the civil war in Ethiopia. If people want to know about certain products from China being detained, then cool, but it’s not a thing you pull out at parties.

I’m even more curious. I want to keep learning more and see what else is out there.

Austin brady, senior studying political science

Q: How has this internship impacted you as a person so far?

A: It’s been really interesting going to the various meetings between policymakers and their various clients. We always hear about the interplay between businesses and government–interplay is maybe a soft word—and it’s interesting seeing how some of this unfolds in real time. It’s a different perspective. It’s looking top-down.

Personally, it’s been really interesting learning about all these weird specific niche things. Like tracking China trade closely. No one cares about customs and border protection seizing goods. Or how prevalent forced labor is within China and maybe the rest of our supply chain. I’m even more curious. I want to keep learning more and see what else is out there.

Q: What advice do you have for students considering an internship through the Washington Seminar program?

A: Do it. If you’re thinking about it, just apply. It’s a really neat experience. The internship you’ll end up doing in itself will be an experience, and the weekly briefings are really interesting. It’s often experienced professionals in their field talking about what they do or what they know in a pretty direct way. It’s neat to have a Q&A with a senator, for example, and get to ask them about issues off the books, because they’re a little more free. You get an insight into how some of these people think.

Kelsey Powell

Q: Where did you intern?

A: TargetPoint Consulting. They are a public opinion and market research firm. They work on political campaigns. We run a lot of surveys to find out how the public feels about a piece of legislation or a candidate, and try to help our clients win whatever their issue is. We also do a lot of market research, working for corporations or companies or nonprofits. We are really just focused on gauging public perception on issues our clients care about.

Say someone wanted to pass a bill in 2022. They would come to us now to figure out what public opinion is, and we’d do what’s called message testing. They’ll give us their top four messages they use to help people change their minds, and in our survey we can figure out which message is the most influential. We are involved in every stage of the campaigning process.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

A: I’ve always really liked politics, and as a political science major I discovered data and became really passionate about data. In my internship I get to see how we can use data in the real world. We get results, we actually act upon them, and can have an influence on the country or in a certain state. I like the real-world application.

Q: When did you decide to do the Washington Seminar?

A: When I was in high school I was trying to decide where to go to school for my bachelor’s degree. I was really attracted to a lot of east coast schools because I wanted to live in D.C, but I had also always wanted to go to BYU. As I was trying to decide what school to go to, I found out about the Washington Seminar program and I thought ‘Perfect, I’m going to go to BYU and do this program, and that will be my little taste of the East Coast.’ So I’ve known for four years that I was going to do this program.

I’ve become a lot more certain of what I want to do and who I want to be because of this experience.

KELSEY POWELL, SENIOR STUDYING POLITICAL SCIENCE

Q: What do you like about living in D.C.?

A: I really love history and this is where it happened. I also love the city feel. The east coast is cobblestone walks along the ocean and that is my vibe.

My husband and I walk to the Lincoln Memorial every Sunday night once it cools down. Everyone knows what the Lincoln Memorial is from movies. It’s cool to actually be there. It’s so fun to sit on the steps and look out at the Mall, and see all the people touring.

I have loved being outside of Utah and being in D.C. and seeing the diversity of people and diversity of opinion. I love the ward that we’re in. It’s so welcoming.

Q: How will your last year of school be different now that you’ve done this internship? What will you take away from the experience?

A: I’ve become a lot more certain of what I want to do and who I want to be because of this experience. I’ve recognized what I can contribute to politics, and that I want to be a positive part of politics. I have gotten to interact with a lot of really kind and wonderful people here and it’s helped me want to be one of those people, so I can help create a more positive view of government.

I’ve always known I would go to grad school so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take a gap year between my undergrad and other degrees (to work in consulting or on a campaign). This internship has made me more comfortable with that idea and strengthened my desire to be in both worlds at the same time. It has been very reassuring to know I’m on the right path.

Q: What would you tell students considering the Washington Seminar?

A: A lot of people want to come to D.C. but don’t know how, and the Washington Seminar program gives you a really good structure of helping you apply for internships and helping you know which internships are out there. Once you’re here, you have not only a place to live but also support throughout your entire internship. You’re surrounded by people who have the same interests as you, and they’re all trying to figure out the whole D.C. thing at the same time. We were mentored by Dr. Goodliffe, and he’s a really great resource in helping you navigate your internship. Living in the Barlow Center is amazing and super inexpensive.

It’s totally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Erin Oliver

Erin Oliver poses at a women’s suffrage exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during the 2021 Washington Seminar (Erin Oliver)

Q: Where did you intern?

A: I interned at a nonprofit called Atlas Corps. They do international development and have a fellowship program where they bring fellows to the United states and host them in different organizations here. They do a leadership program with them and prepare them to go back to their countries and fix social issues that are happening there.

Q: What are your responsibilities?

I get to work with the CEO and the communications team and I do a lot of writing reports, I do a lot of research, I work with the database and input donations from fundraising campaigns, and I do a lot of external outreach — a lot of communications stuff where I’m drafting messages or newsletters or reports that then gets sent to our list of contacts.

Q: What is your favorite part of your internship?

A: I get to go to a lot of events which is pretty fun. I got to attend this gala a week ago and the keynote speaker was Malala Yousafzai. She spoke and I got to be in a breakout room with her. It was really fun.

Q: Were you nervous when you started your internship?

A: I was a little nervous at the beginning of my internship. New environment. I definitely wanted to make a good impression on my team. But everyone is super nice and very welcoming, so that went away pretty fast.

Q: What do you love about living in D.C.?

A: There’s always things to do. Museums, and monuments. Truly if you want to go do something, just walk outside. The city’s just beautiful: architecture, monuments, nature/greenery…it’s just a pristine city.

Q: How did you know you wanted to do this program?

A: I had always heard about the Washington Seminar program because I’m a poli sci student. I knew I wanted to save it until the very end because I wanted to end up in D.C. I decided to try and plan an internship around my last semester in college; that way I could come out here and hopefully stay out here. I got a one-way ticket. Bold moves. Really, I just went for it and it’s paid off. I got a job so I’m staying out here.

Q: How did you get a job?

A: Networking is huge here. You do a lot of talking to people and I found some job postings and I applied to them and luckily one of my friends knew someone who was working at the organization I got a job at. I talked with him before I got interviewed.

Q: What is your new job?

A: I will be working at the American Foreign Service Association as a membership specialist.

Q: What did you learn from this experience of finding a job in D.C.?

A: It’s important to be confident in yourself. A lot of people our age tend to doubt their abilities. We’re an anxious group I think. Be confident in what you’ve learned. I know the political science program at BYU really prepared me well for everything I’ve done out here.

It’s important to be confident in yourself. A lot of people our age tend to doubt their abilities. Be confident in what you’ve learned.

Erin oliver, senior studying political science

For more information on the Washington Seminar, visit https://washingtonseminar.byu.edu/

6 Simple Ways to Grow Professionally This Summer

Whether you’re busy at an internship or looking to score one in the future, these six tips from Danny Damron, assistant dean of experiential learning and professional development, will help you get a head start on preparing for the workforce in whatever profession you choose.

Meet Danny

Danny Damron on a seven-day mountain biking trip from Durango, Colorado to Moab, Utah in 2019. (Danny Damron)

Damron has always thrived learning from experience, whether that was building a Huckleberry Finn raft as an 8-year-old, getting his teenage “sea legs” on a lobster boat off the coast of Maine, being tear-gassed while watching a mass protest in South Korea, completing an internship in Puerto Rico teaching English as a second language, or partnering with his wife in raising three children while they were both getting doctorate degrees. He has spent the past 20 years helping students get the most out of their internships and teaching assistant positions.

Damron believes internships provide unique opportunities for learning and growth and hopes students will make the effort to seek out and apply for internship experiences. To help students better for and get more out of their internships, he offers these six tips.

1. Prioritize with a time-management matrix

Working in a full-time internship requires you to fill 40 hours with meaningful work each week. It can be easy to get caught up in less important tasks or allow some things to take more time than they should. To make the most of your time in a professional setting, you can use the Time Management Matrix developed by Stephen Covey, bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The matrix consists of four cells: Urgent/Important, Urgent/Not Important, Not Urgent/Important, and Not Important/Urgent, and organizing your daily activities in each box may prove to be a revealing exercise.

For example, you may find that activities like answering email or checking social media, which so often carry the illusion of urgency, are eating away at your time, while items are actually more important to you in the long run, like preparing for graduate school or applying for internships online, are slipping through the cracks. The matrix may be a great first step in restructuring your schedule to reflect your true priorities.

Time management matrix popularized by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

2. Craft and refine a purpose statement, and test it out in professionally relevant settings

A purpose statement is a tool to create professional connections on resumes, in job interviews, while networking at events, on social media platforms, and many other avenues. It’s a short, 3-5 sentence opener that describes you and your professional interests in a way that invites a potential employer or colleague to give you a second look and say, “Tell me more.”

A solid purpose statement has three parts: professional intention, reflection, and connection.

Professional intention is what you’re passionate about and what you ultimately want to do with your career. For example, a sociology student might say, “I find it rewarding to understand and create solutions to common problems that face society.”

The professional intention piece of your statement doesn’t need to be niche, because what you want to do professionally can apply to different areas of work. For example, a student wanting to solve societal problems could become a social worker, but also a lawyer, legislator, nonprofit leader, therapist, or psychologist.

Reflection means articulating how your experiences or your understanding of a professional challenge have brought you to the place you are now. The same sociology student might say, “My sociology training at BYU has given me XYZ opportunities to learn and use the tools to help me solve problems.”

Connection is the “clickbait” part of your purpose statement. By finding a challenge you have in common with your potential employer/colleague, you can have a further conversation that will lead to professional connection. The sociology student might say, “I’m eager to apply what I’ve learned to help families come out of poverty,” or “I want to use my training to help low-income students.”

You can also approach the connection part of your purpose statement using an unanswered question you’re pursuing the answer to, a question you may have in common with another professional. For example, the sociology student may have the question, “How do we help people of ethnic minorities afford housing?” or “How do we improve racial relations between students in academia?” Effectively introducing a question that’s important to you will allow you to join forces with someone who is trying to solve a similar problem, or at least get some helpful direction on your career path.

3. Ask for advice, not feedback

Photography by Gabriel Mayberry /BYU © BYU PHOTO 2017

When asking colleagues, employers, or future employers how you can improve, it’s more effective to ask for advice than feedback. Recent studies published in the Harvard Business Review found that when professionals were asked to give feedback on an employee or applicant’s performance, their comments were vague and generally focused on praise. When asked to give advice, the same professionals gave more specific, actionable items for improvement.

That’s because, when people are asked to give feedback, they focus on evaluating a past performance, rather than on looking forward to future improvements, according to the authors of the study. When asked to give advice, people will focus on the future development of the person being examined, rather than on past mistakes the person can no longer change.

Make it a point to ask current or potential employers for advice, and then implement their suggestions.

4. Talk to people who are successful in your field about how they got there

David Hart’s Class in the Marriott School of Business, 2017 © (Nate Edwards, BYU PHOTO)

You can learn a lot from successful people indirectly. When networking or at another professional event, it may be less effective to ask a professional in your field for direct advice, and more effective to ask them about their own personal journey. People are often comfortable talking about themselves, and you may pick up some of your best advice for finding jobs, interviewing, acquiring skills, and more through the personal stories of those who are currently doing what you’d like to do yourself someday.

5. Role play

It’s awkward, but effective. Prepare for interviews, first meetings with supervisors, public speaking assignments, and other potentially terrifying professional situations by practicing them beforehand. It’s best to practice answering and asking questions with someone you don’t know, or even someone who will make the experience more difficult (like an obnoxious uncle). You can set up a mock interview with a mentor through BYU Career Services here. Simulating the interview environment will allow you to access how you perform under pressure and help you target areas for improvement.

6. Read a professional development book or series of articles

Choose a specific strength you want to develop — like leadership, public speaking, conflict resolution — and read up on it! Need to know where to start? The Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University surveys employers about skills they wish college graduates had and they publish annual reports with college recruiting trends. Traits employers said will be important for students in the wake of a global pandemic include persistence, adaptability, the ability to balance work and protect personal time, and a positive attitude.

Books we’d recommend are:

Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better

What the Best College Students Do

The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills

Just Listen

Get Started

Put these professional development tips into action with an internship! Check out what internships are available in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences here.

BYU family history students connect missing soldiers to their families

A group of BYU students has answered the Army’s call for genealogical reinforcements.

With more than 82,000 Americans still missing from conflicts dating back to World War II, students at the BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy have been working with the Army and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to return the remains of missing soldiers to their family members.

“Normally in our family history work, we are going as far back through as many generations as we can,” said Sydney Bjork, one of the students who worked on the project this past year. “But this sort of feels like reverse family history work. We start with a soldier and then look for the closest living relative they have.”

The Army sought help with this project from BYU, which has the only family history degree in the nation. Other partners in this project include historians who research where there might be remains of missing soldiers. Archaeology units take that information and get digging. And it’s BYU’s job to find the relatives.

Since starting on the project, the students have been assigned just more than 65 cases and have finished about 48 of them. After the cases are complete, students submit a report to the Army with the results of their research, the potential DNA donors and the contact information of the soldier’s relatives.

Professor Jill Crandell standing amid her two students in the JFSB courtyard
From left: Student Melanie Torres, Professor Jill Crandell, and student Kimberly Brown.

“Family history is something that’s really tender to all of us because it’s about family and we know how much our own families mean to us,” said Professor Jill Crandell, director of BYU’s Center. “We actually become attached to those families and there is a certain amount of inspiration involved when working on these cases.”

Not all cases are created equally. Some cases take three hours to solve. Some cases take three weeks to solve. However long it takes, the students on the project always feel an overwhelming sense of joy that they were able to help in the process of bringing families closer together.

For these students, this project is more than names and dates; it’s not just casework, each one is a meaningful story. Here’s a sample of the stories they’ve learned and worked on:

  • One mother continued for decades to set an extra place at the dinner table, just in case her son came home.
  • A still-living widow of a WWII soldier still longs to know at age 97 what happened to her husband.
  • One family of Italian immigrants has two brothers missing in action.

Melanie Torres and some of her fellow students who worked on these cases have close family members who have served in the military so this work really hits home for them.

“My grandfather was in the military, my great-grandfather was in World War II and my husband is in the Air Force. It is something that just really connects to my heart,” said Torres.

-Joe Hadfield, University Communications