1:25 p.m., Sept. 9, 2010----As soon as University of Delaware senior Taina Oquendo began her summer internship this year, she heard the same question from almost everyone: “Why is an anthropology major working in the White House?”
By the middle of the summer, Oquendo, who has a double major in psychology and an interest in early childhood studies, said she had an answer for that question. “It's true that even though I've always been interested in political issues, I haven't been really involved in the details of politics,” she said. “But I think people like me can bring a different perspective to government service and advocate from other points of view besides a political one, and I think that's important.”
Oquendo, who called the internship “a life-changing experience,” was encouraged to apply by her father, who happened across a mention of the program on the White House website. After a highly selective process, which included writing application essays and discussing her interest in community service -- a key aspect of the internship program -- Oquendo was among the 130 interns chosen for placement in various offices in the White House for the summer.
Her workplace was in the Office of Presidential Personnel, which oversees the selection process for presidential appointments throughout the administration. Oquendo said she assisted staff members as they worked to identify and recruit potential candidates to represent the president's priorities by serving in departments and agencies across the federal government.
“These are people who are going to be key policy makers, who are going to be shaping our future,” she said. “It was really exciting and rewarding.”
The unpaid interns worked long hours but had enormous opportunities to learn about government service and to be part of a nurturing and collegial team, Oquendo said. The program offered a range of professional development activities in addition to the regular workday, including assistance with résumé writing and interviewing and a speaker series that enabled the interns to hear from Vice President Joe Biden, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and others.
“The whole experience was very empowering, to be around these top people and to feel that I was making a contribution,” Oquendo said. “I also learned that there's a lot of integrity in government service. The individuals I worked with were very hard-working, and everybody was there because they wanted to do the right thing and to make a difference.”
All the interns also performed some community service, with Oquendo volunteering with youngsters at a local YMCA, and they took part in occasional other activities such as leading visitors on White House tours.
For Oquendo, the experience has caused her to rethink her career plans, which originally focused on a private practice in child psychology. Now, she said, she's thinking about the effect she could have if she got involved in helping to shape public policy on children's issues.
“My whole trajectory has changed,” she said. “By impacting policy, you can help millions of people, not just individuals.”
Article by Ann Manser
Photo by Ambre Alexander