Carnegie Mellon University

Marissa Baldauf Pekular in the courtyard in front of the Supreme Court

December 06, 2022

Interning on Capitol Hill

By Lindsay Marcellus

“I have always wanted to work on the Hill.”

Editor’s Note: Marissa Baldauf Pekular is majoring in International Relations and Politics and minoring in professional writing at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). She is one of nineteen students currently participating in the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program (CMU/WSP). CMU/WSP is an experiential learning program in which students live, intern, and take classes in Washington, D.C. This program is open to CMU undergraduates from any college or major. Every student participates in an internship, which usually involves about twenty-four hours of work a week. Internships are valuable opportunities for students to not only take ownership of their educational experience and connect their coursework to the real world, but also to foster intentional reflection on their professional learning and personal growth. Below is an interview with Marissa about her internship experience on Capitol Hill. Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Why did you apply for the internship?

I have always wanted to work on the Hill. I got my first introduction to public service at the state level working as a legislative assistant for my state representative. While I found it incredibly rewarding to help constituents and build relationships in my community, I’ve always felt a calling to work in Washington D.C. at the federal level. I wanted to be part of an institution that is bigger than any single person or interest. While I am still narrowing down my career goals, I am confident that public service is at the core of my passions. 

What surprised you about your experience?

I worked in D.C. this summer for the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of the Secretary, Office of Public Affairs, so I already had a feel of the D.C. working environment. However, the Hill is known to be different from other offices. There is a level of passion, chaos, and intensity that is unique to Capitol Hill. Interning in a place that constantly works to better the lives of Americans is incredibly rewarding and uplifting,

What were some skills you needed to carry out your duties?

Professional writing skills are very helpful for any workplace, but they are especially valuable when working on the Hill. Throughout all of my different internship experiences, I’ve had to draft memos, proposals, quotes, speeches, blogs, and media advisories. While there were many opportunities to learn along the way, it has been incredibly beneficial to already have these writing skills. One class at CMU that was especially helpful was Writing for Political Science and Policy with Professor Bartos. I would highly recommend it.

How did you develop professionally and personally over the course of your internship?

Over the summer and throughout the last months, I’ve developed as a person, worker, and student. I’ve gotten incredible opportunities to talk to different people in the federal workforce and learn about legislative functions and policy areas. I’ve also received invaluable career advice from seasoned professionals. These learning opportunities have been crucial to my professional and personal growth as I navigate my career path.

What advice would you share with future interns?

While it is not uncommon advice, I want to emphasize how important it is to put yourself out here. While it may be intimidating to ask your office’s legislative director for a coffee chat, it is important to do so. Meeting new people and learning about different policy areas will allow you to hone in on your passions and areas of policy interest. This will enrich your internship experience and establish your career path.

Photo credit: Marissa in the courtyard in front of the Supreme Court

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).