2016 PFIG Recipient Jaymee Copenhaver
Journal Entry #1
Miss Copenhaver Goes to Washington
When you take the yellow line metro into the city from Virginia at 8 a.m. on a weekday, as I have for the past week, there is a lot to see. There are rushing commuters dressed in business formal and carrying briefcases and coffee, families visiting the city ready for a day of sightseeing, and huge, fast trains. However, my favorite sight on these mornings comes between the Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza metro stations when I finally cross the Potomac River into the city. From my spot at the window of the metro I can see across the river and over to the magnificence of the nation’s capital. I see tall buildings and great memorials, merging the city’s vibrant present with its momentous history. It’s beautiful, and I feel so lucky to be here.
This summer, I am interning in the office of Congressman H. Morgan Griffith. Congressman Griffith represents the ninth district of Virginia, Southwest Virginia, which is also my home district. To say the least, the first week of my internship has been incredibly exciting. I moved into my small apartment in Alexandria, VA on a Wednesday, and I started my internship on a Friday. Starting a new job on a Friday may sound odd, but Congress was not in session that day, so all of Capitol Hill was a little more quiet than they might normally have been.
My first day (actually more like this whole first week) was spent taking in a lot of new information and trying to figure out my new role. I met all the staffers working in my office as well as the other intern working with me this summer and learned a lot about how the office works. My main duty as part of this internship is to receive incoming phone calls and faxes and interact with constituents, so I learned all about the correct way to handle those tasks as well as enter information into our computer system. After a morning full of new information, it was time for lunch. Luckily, I am working in the Longworth House office building which has a cafeteria in the basement along with a combined Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. I went to the cafeteria for lunch, and afterwards was taken on a small tour of the Capitol building, including going to places I might need to know how to get to as an intern. By the end of the first day, I felt overloaded with information, but I could not have been happier about it.
The rest of my first week was filled with excitement and novelty. Capitol Hill transitioned into a much faster pace when Congress was in session, and my office was incredibly busy as the Congressman introduced an amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill this week. I was busy answering phones and trying to keep updated on everything happening on the Hill and in the district. I have started to learn my way around the Hill a little more, but still almost got lost delivering something to another office. I also received my name badge, which gives me more access to the Capitol. I have learned a lot already about how the office works as well as everyone’s roles in the office, but I know there is still a lot to learn. I have also realized the importance of the role constituents play in our office. We receive a lot of input from constituents about a variety of issues, and every single comment is taken seriously and considered by the Congressman and his staffers. Answering phone calls from constituents has quickly become my favorite task because I think it is so interesting to learn what issues people are concerned about as well as hear different opinions on the issues. Talking to constituents makes me feel like I’m really making a difference and playing an important role as I help them to have their voices heard. I’m looking forward to the rest of my internship and continuing to learn and help as much as I can.
Aside from work, my transition to life in D.C. has been incredibly exciting as well. Figuring out the metro has been...interesting. I’m lucky to have Google Maps as well as a Metro app on my phone to help me. I’m also thankful for podcasts as the 40ish minute commute can feel pretty long. I’m living in Alexandria, VA, and I have been trying to explore that area as much as possible so far. I also want to make the most of my time in this incredible city, so I plan to wander around D.C. as much as I can. This holiday weekend has involved a Nationals baseball game as well as a visit to Eastern Market and Tyson’s Corner.
This first week has been an important time of transition and learning for me, and I have set a few goals for myself for the rest of my summer. First, I want to talk to and help as many constituents as I can. I also want to meet as many new people and make personal and professional contacts while I’m here. I want to attend committee hearings for topics that I’m interested in as well as be as helpful as possible around the office. Outside of work, I want to explore the city as much as I can. I want to go to museums, art galleries, memorials, and concerts. I want to take in everything that I can while I’m here, and if the length of this post is any indication, I think I am doing well so far. I could not even fit all that I have learned this week in this post, and I am eager to continue to learn and explore.
So far, work and life in the city has been overwhelming and exciting, and I cannot wait to see what the rest of the summer has in store.
Journal Entry #2
Miss Copenhaver Explores Washington
In one of my early days of working on the Hill, I was asked to take a document to the Cloakroom, which is basically a room in the Capitol where Members can send signed bill sponsors and cosponsors (there’s actually two: one for Republicans and one for Democrats). If you have ever been in the Capitol, you may know that it can be a confusing place to walk around in, so, of course, I got a little lost. A Capitol Police officer ended up having to walk me to a set of elevators where two staffers showed me the way to the cloakroom. To say the least, I was quite embarrassed and it felt like the most cliché intern mistake I could make. I only share this story of my humiliation to say that earlier today, I gave a tour of the Capitol and actually knew where I was going; I’ve improved and learned, and not just in the realm of directions.
One thing I’ve learned is something that came as a surprise to me. In my time on the Hill, I’ve become very interested in health policy, something I always thought I would hate. When thinking about health policy before, I had always thought about the complications of medicare and medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. However, my congressman is on the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, so I have been able to get a lot of exposure to health-related topics, and I have loved learning about them. I was even able to stand backstage in the staff room for a markup in which his committee passed a big mental health bill, and the whole process was really interesting and exciting to watch. Another surprise that has come my way has been how applicable all my classes have been to this internship, even the non-politics classes. For example, I have been able to attend a few briefings on the opioid epidemic in America, and the speakers were bringing up lots of topics that my professor had talked about in my Substance Abuse class this past semester. If it were not for this opportunity, I may have never known I was interested in public health policy.
The last few weeks have also been very hectic. Congress was in session for three straight weeks, and the devastation of the shooting in Orlando had a big impact in Washington. I have been working on a few different projects, including going to briefings and writing memos on topics I’m interested in. I also have continued to take in constituent comments, and I would like to think I have gotten better at it. One thing that I’ve learned about working in public service is the passion that people feel about the policies they care about at every level. People who call or write in to our office are passionate about the issue they called about, the staffers who are attending briefings and having meetings on that issue are passionate, and the congressmen and women who are passing and improving legislation are passionate. And I believe that it is very rewarding at every step to get that legislation passed and make a difference for our district, no matter what the issue. I simply feel lucky to be able to play a small role in that process.
When I’m not at work, I have been out in the city as much as possible. I’ve been to Eastern Market, a couple of Nationals games, National Harbor, Colonial Beach, the congressional baseball game, Georgetown, and Dupont Circle to name a few. My parents were also able to come visit from Southwest Virginia, and I really enjoyed getting to show them some of my favorite spots (my mom was also very proud of my newfound city-driving abilities). Next on my list is a short trip home to see some family and the Newseum and Spy Museum. My internship will end in a few short weeks, and I hope to continue to learn and experience all that I can while I’m here.
Journal Entry #3
Miss Copenhaver Leaves Washington (for now)
In my last week on the Hill, the legislative director in my office asked me what the highs and lows of my internship were, my best and worst experiences. Call me a pessimist, but I first tried to answer what the low point might be. I thought about the time my metro train got stalled on the track sitting above the Potomac and I was thirty minutes late for work, or there was the week when the phone was ringing off the hook, and I had a hard time keeping up. I think I eventually answered the question with a particularly trying phone call I had taken at some point. Then I thought about the high points, the best parts of my internship, and I couldn’t ever give him an answer. I couldn’t narrow down this amazing experience to one high point; it just wasn’t possible to pick a single thing. The entire eight weeks was my high point.
In my last few weeks, I continued to grow and learn. I was able to go to two separate lectures where Paul Ryan was speaking, and I also continued to be able to go to some health briefings I was interested in. I also went to a hearing on countering the virtual caliphate which was particularly exciting as I wrote a paper last year on ISIS’s use of Twitter. That hearing is a good example of one of my favorite things about this internship: taking the theories and concepts I have learned in my classes at UVA and seeing how they apply in real-world scenarios. My last few weeks were also exciting and busy as Congress was about to go into a long district work period, and everyone on Capitol Hill tried to accomplish all their last-minute tasks before the break. I was one of these people as I tried to finish up all the projects I had been tasked with before my last day while also trying to take in my last experiences in the city. Luckily, I was able to spend my last weekend in the city having brunch in Georgetown with friends, kayaking on the Potomac, and visiting some memorials (including that of Mr. Jefferson). My last two weeks also brought on a new challenge as I was hit full force by something that had been plaguing the city all summer: Metro’s SafeTrack. Segments of the line I took were completely shut down for the last two weeks of my internship, but I was fortunate enough to be able to get a temporary parking pass and drive to work which was both scary and exciting. All I can say is that I am forever grateful for Google Maps.
I remember when I first mentioned to my mom that I was going to have to drive to work, she was a little worried for me. Honestly, I was a little scared myself. But I had to get to work somehow, so my only option was to jump in, start driving, and get better as I went along. In a way, I felt the same way about this internship. At first I was scared and didn’t really know what to expect, but I decided that I had to just jump in and learn along the way; and with some help from the people in my office, I was able to do that. I didn’t just learn how to do my job and finish my tasks as an intern, I learned about how to work with other people, how offices on the Hill operate, and how Congress works to pass legislation. I made new professional contacts as well as new friends, and I got to experience life in the nation’s capital. I accomplished a lot of the goals I set out for myself in the beginning of summer, but I know I still have a lot more to learn. I also saw and experienced a lot of the items on my D.C. must-see list, but I didn’t have time to get to all of them. I had the most amazing summer I could have ever asked for, and I didn’t want to leave.For all these reasons, I have decided that I have no choice but to return to and work in Washington when I graduate. I am both scared and excited for that day to (hopefully) come, but I know that if I jump in and work hard, everything will work out okay, and if I’m lucky, I’ll have an experience as amazing as the one this summer.