Carnegie Mellon University

Abigail Khieu with Senator Van Hollen. Photo credit: Official U.S. Senate photo by John Shinkle

December 01, 2022

Interning at the Office of Senator Van Hollen

By Lindsay Marcellus

“I feel appreciated and that my work genuinely makes a difference.”

Before starting her semester in Washington, DC, Abigail Khieu already had experience interning at a lobbying firm. Many of her fellow interns there had previously completed congressional internships and had gained a valuable understanding of how the system worked. So when it was time to apply for internships for the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program (CMU/WSP), Abigail thought working in Congress would allow her to immerse herself in the policy-making process and expand her network. This fall, she had her chance to do so through an internship in the Office of Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). 

Khieu is majoring in Economics and Politics and is one of nineteen students spending the semester in Washington, DC, as part of the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program (CMU/WSP), which allows undergraduate students from any college or major to live, intern, and take classes in DC. CMU/WSP is an experiential learning program and every student participates in an internship. The internship can be in any field of interest and usually involves about twenty-four hours of work a week. This experience not only helps students connect coursework to the real world, but also gives them the opportunity to hone professional and networking skills. 

Soft skills often prove to be crucial. For example, although good writing skills were expected, Abigail found that the most important skills for a congressional internship were adaptability and tact. She explained that an intern needs to be able to take on new tasks with minimal formal training, and it is vital to act professionally both around the Capitol and when interacting with constituents, especially when you represent a senator or congressperson.

One of the goals of the CMU/WSP program is to foster intentional reflection on learning and growth and internships facilitate that process. Abigail notes that while classes and extracurricular activities also build valuable skills, her internship has helped her become more comfortable exercising her professional skills and more confident in her contributions to the workplace. What advice would she give to others?  “I advise future interns to take advantage of all professional and personal opportunities offered to them on the Hill or in DC in general. There are so many wonderful opportunities to capitalize on and enrich your experiences. Also, make sure to build your network and grow your personal brand during your time in DC and elsewhere.” 

Photo credit: Official U.S. Senate photo by John Shinkle

Note: This internship spotlight was first published on the website of the Institute for Politics and Strategy (IPS).  The Institute for Politics and Strategy has now evolved into the Carnegie Mellon Institute for Strategy & Technology (CMIST).