Carnegie Mellon University

Keilani Barba in front of the White House

February 02, 2023

Interning at the Executive Office of the President

By Lindsay Marcellus

Lindsay Marcellus

In this edition of the Internship Spotlight Series, International Relations and Politics major Keilani Barba shares how her experience in the White House gave her insight into what it means to work in public service and what she needs to stay grounded in her pursuit of making a positive change. 

Keilani Barba hoped to get first-hand experience working in a large government agency. She got her chance to do so while participating in the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program (CMU/WSP) last fall.  When she accepted an internship in the Executive Office of the President (EOP), Barba, who is majoring in International Relations and Politics as well as Professional Writing, expected to gain institutional knowledge and insights about what it means to work in public service and politics. Yet she did not expect that her office would be so non-partisan. Here are her reflections on the experience, in her words. 

“It was truly rewarding to feel like I was a part of this behind-the-scenes process and community.”

What surprised me the most was how non-partisan my particular office seemed to be. Many members of our senior team have worked through several administrations, with the primary goal staying the same throughout: improve and maintain the systems and processes that help the EOP run smoothly and efficiently. This became one of my favorite parts of my internship, because I got to connect with so many people from different components within the EOP who were all passionate in their work, serving the government and the public to the best of their ability, without being divided by partisanship. It was truly rewarding to feel like I was a part of this behind-the-scenes process and community. 

Keilani Barba in front of the White House

The EOP is an extremely fast-paced environment in which I needed to be able to communicate effectively with both senior leadership and my fellow interns. Therefore, my communication skills, both verbal and written, were very helpful for this position. Yet, one of the skills that I found was most beneficial is my ability to adapt and learn quickly. I was often working with/in systems that I was unfamiliar with. I needed to be able to think critically, ask thoughtful questions, and use the resources that were available to me to teach myself different things in order to meet the various needs of the EOP.

"I found that working with others who are uplifting and motivated to serve is of utmost importance for me"

Through this internship, I have learned a lot about my personal strengths, weaknesses, and professional interests. I found that working with others who are uplifting and motivated to serve is of utmost importance for me moving forward in a career in government/politics in order to keep me grounded and driven in my pursuit of making a positive change.  

Keilani Barba in the Executive Office of the President

"Be open to learning new things, and most importantly, stay present in this moment"

My best advice [to future interns] would be to truly enjoy and take full advantage of this experience. Connect with people in your office and in other components, if possible. Build genuine relationships with your peers. Go to all of the events you may be invited to, be open to learning new things, and most importantly, stay present in this moment. It is not often that you get an experience like this and if you are too caught up in worrying about what’s next (what classes you are taking next semester, what internship you’ll apply to next, etc.) it’ll pass you by quicker than you know. Make sure to appreciate this opportunity and make the most of it in any way you can. 

Photo credits: Keilani Barba

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).