Posted by Nancy Fairbank
I’ve never been good at packing light. When I stepped off the plane at the Reagan Washington National airport, I dragged three huge bags behind me, filled with everything I would need in order to do anything from hiking at Shenandoah National Park to mingling at a black tie gala. I wanted to be prepared for any eventuality. After all, a lot of things could happen while in D.C. for a semester as an Archer Fellow and State Department intern.
The first week was filled with activity, as I met 41 fellows from other UT System schools that I would be spending my semester with. We were a sundry mix, with students interning at the White House, the National Portrait Gallery, Marathon Petroleum, and a medley of other places. The diversity of our class brought new and interesting perspectives to class discussions, as we addressed slavery, student activism, abortion, and current events.
In addition to student discussion, I took three classes that were totally unique in both structure and content. In Dr. Swerdlow’s class, we visited monuments and museums all over the city, reading MLK Jr.’s speeches in front of his statue and recreating FDR’s debate with Herbert Hoover at the FDR memorial.
In Dr. Chin’s class, we interacted with guest speakers including federal judges, campaign managers for current presidential candidates, and a lobbyist for open access data. We also teamed up to create, write, and present in-depth policy proposals addressing national issues. My group’s policy focus was on creating common sense gun control reform while protecting citizen’s 2nd amendment rights. Other groups focused on food deserts and increasing programming and technology based education for public school students.
Dr. Daly taught us rules of the workplace and socializing in D.C., of which my personal favorite was to always carefully dry your hands before leaving the bathroom, as you never know whose hand you might have to shake as soon as you walk out. We read The Prince and Hardball, analyzing successful strategies in how to be persuasive as well as memorable in our offices.
In addition to attending classes, we were all full time interns. I worked with the Judicial Liaison at the State Department, researching the judicial structures of foreign nations and helping to arrange rule of law and legal exchanges. My boss had me doing substantive work and learning the intricacies of a government agency as large as the State Department; he often used the phrase “I won’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.” My internship offered incredible opportunities, including the chance to listen to and interact with three Supreme Court Justices, one of whom (Justice Ginsburg) is my personal heroine.
While we worked hard in our classes and internships, a large part of being an Archer Fellow was getting to know D.C. We tailgated before UT Austin football games on the beautiful rooftop of our apartment building, with a view of the city that included the Washington Monument. We figured out how to use the metro and used it to visit The BEACH exhibit at the National Building Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. We ate from food trucks and rocked out to Drake and The Strokes at the Landmark Music Festival.
It’s difficult to describe all the experiences I was able to cram into one incredible semester in a single blog post. I saw six different presidential candidates speak and was blessed by Pope Francis on the lawn in front of the Capitol. I went to an evening at the Embassy of Tunisia and drank tea with the Tunisian Ambassador. The list of amazing opportunities provided just by living in D.C. goes on and on.
I returned to Dallas with more than just three overstuffed bags; I came back with a boatload of new knowledge, an expansive alumni network stretching across Texas and D.C., and 41 new friends.