'D.C. Isn't the City to Be Shy:' Panel Addresses Success in Politics

'D.C. Isn't the City to Be Shy:' Panel Addresses Success in Politics

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Kristin Simonetti
June 15, 2015

Most people spend years unearthing the unwritten rules of working on and around Capitol Hill. The Washington Center's summer 2015 students needed only a week, thanks to a panel of alumni who visited the Residential and Academic Facility on Friday, June 5.


Stephen Billy '07, Jocelyn Bissonnette '08 and Frederick Velez '11 shared tales from the campaign trail, the halls of Congress and the war rooms of advocacy organizations with nearly 80 students eager to follow in their footsteps. Ian Michalak (Institution: University of Toledo, Ohio; Internship: Online Lenders Alliance) asked panelists an age-old question: What are the hours really like for Congressional staff? Billy - the deputy chief of staff and legislative director for U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) - explained workday varies by season, like many workplaces. But sometimes, those variations can be extreme.

"I can tell you about times appropriations votes didn't start until 2:30 a.m.," he said, eliciting audible groans from the audience. "You're essentially on call all the time."


Briar Smith (Institution: University of Dayton, Ohio; Internship: Office of Congressman John Kline (R-MN)) asked about how interns and entry-level staff can find opportunities to distinguish themselves without upsetting the established order of their new offices.


"Washington, D.C., isn't the city to be shy," said Burgos, a scheduler and new media coordinator for U.S. Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-NY). "You have to get out from behind your desk." Among Velez's recommendations: attend hearings, speak with people from as many different Congressional offices as possible and never turn down a free lunch provided by an organization hosting a presentation or panel discussion.


Closing out the afternoon's discussion, Matthew Hzkowitz (Institution: University of South Florida; Internship: The Chwat Group) put panelists on a mildly hot seat. When looking at the resume of a prospective hire, which did the alumni value the most: law school, graduate school or work experience? All three panelists leaned toward the latter.


"Work experience, to me, is more important than the degree," said Bissonnette, director of government affairs for the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools. "A graduate degree might get your resume higher in the pile, but real-world experience working in a Congressional office or on a campaign is key to getting a job in advocacy."


After the panel concluded, students waited in lines five to 10 people long for a chance to ask Billy, Bissonnette and Velez questions one-on-one. For nearly a half hour, the alumni graciously fielded each inquiry. Are you a TWC alumnus or alumna interested in serving TWC in this way? Let us know with this short interest form!

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