by Kevin Donnelly
As my internship at the National Endowment for the Humanities comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the experience as a whole. This being my first internship experience, I really had no idea what to expect. I had heard all of the classic intern horror stories: Scurrying to get coffee, make copies, answer phones, respond to emails, the monotony goes on. I was determined that my internship experience was not going to be like that, so when my program coordinator at the University of Maryland sent out an email about an internship opportunity in the NEH’s Office of White House and Congressional Affairs, I took immediate interest. Being a government and politics major, an internship at a federal agency seemed like the perfect match for me. Moreover, working in a Congressional affairs office presented me with the opportunity to interact with policymakers on the hill, something I sought from an internship from the beginning. To say my curiosity was piqued is an understatement, and the fact that I didn’t even know what the National Endowment for the Humanities did wasn’t going to stop me for trying to become a part of it.
Needless to say, when I was offered an intern position at the NEH I was thrilled. Arriving in the Old Post Office Pavilion for the first time was quite an experience, one I would come to appreciate as time went on. The tourist-filled food court and bombastic lunchtime performances gave the old place a unique character I won’t soon forget. The first meeting I had with the three C’s (All three women I worked with had names beginning with C) and my fellow interns demonstrated to me that this office was somewhere I wanted to be. Even though I came into the internship wary of what might be I immediately felt welcomed by colleagues and the staff. Each of us interns was assigned to a specific task, mine being the development of content for reports highlighting how the NEH serves certain constituencies. Writing has always been a passion of mine, and it has played a huge role in my academic career. I appreciated being given an assignment that took advantage of my existing skills while simultaneously teaching me new ones. In looking up grants, images, and other data for each report, I was able to enhance my research skills and utilize methods of inquiry previously unavailable to me. Often I had to maintain email correspondences with program directors, museum curators, artists, and nonprofit staff, and I enjoyed the opportunity to fine tune my professional communication skills. I was also able to learn so much about how NEH programs benefit people across the nation. From family literacy programs to veteran-related projects, the NEH funds initiatives serving every demographic in all of the humanities fields. In researching the NEH’s broad spectrum of grants I gained a better understanding of the agency’s immense purview and impact.
I was also responsible for setting up meetings with the offices of freshmen members of Congress, a task I had looked forward to since I arrived in the Office of White House and Congressional Affairs. Don’t worry – it’s not that I actually enjoy the logistics of setting up meetings, I’m not crazy – but I do support what the NEH does and jumped on the opportunity to spread the word on Capitol Hill. Because I potentially want to pursue a career in public service it was especially interesting to experience a Hill meeting firsthand. Though I’m not always the most organized person, scheduling meetings on the Hill taught me respect for an organized schedule, an invaluable skill if I want to succeed in the future.
I was also fortunate enough to have some great times thanks to my colleagues and the agency in general. Being able to attend the 42nd Jefferson Lecture featuring Martin Scorsese was a truly enlightening privilege, and one I won’t soon forget. Seeing the reports I had worked on for three months come to life before my eyes was totally gratifying. Covering our Director’s office in googly eyes on April Fool’s Day on the other hand was 100 percent fun. I can safely say that all of the internship myths about fetching coffee or answering phones did not apply to my experience at the NEH, which provided me the best of both worlds.
I have really found a place in my heart for the NEH. I’m so thankful that I was able to better myself and the agency, and am even more appreciative to gain the knowledge that I have. Before interning at the NEH I barely knew what the humanities were. Now I’m left with a deep and lasting respect for the humanities that will stay with me forever. I’ll miss the NEH and I’m so happy knowing that I’ve made lasting relationships with great people at a great agency. Thank you all!
Kevin Donnelly is working towards his Bachelors of Arts in Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. He is planning to pursue a master in Public Policy, focusing either on International Economic Policy or Education Policy. Originally from Rockville, MD, Kevin is a local who loves D.C. but resents taking it for granted. He loves cars and hopes to one day have a garage the size of Jay Leno’s. He plans on graduating in May of 2016 and pursuing a career in public policy.