Roanoke College senior and softball standout interns with Washington international police communications organization

Washington, D.C., has a much different pace of life compared with small town Salem, Va. One Roanoke College senior experienced this first hand last fall, thanks to a unique program that the College offers.

Alea Bier '13 is one of many Roanoke students who has lived and interned in the nation's capital through the Lutheran College Washington D.C. Semester Program. She interned with INTERPOL Washington, an international police communications organization.

Students from about 12 Lutheran schools intern with various Washington organizations for a semester. They work four days a week and take sightseeing and educational trips throughout the city each Wednesday.

Bier, a criminal justice major and a Roanoke softball player, learned about the program through her advisor, Dr. Todd Peppers, who is the Henry H. and Trudye Fowler Professor of Public Affairs at Roanoke. He also is the advisor for the Washington Program.

"He really pushed me to start thinking about it," Bier said.

Each year, Roanoke sends an average of six students to Washington to be a part of this program. Peppers is a huge advocate for it, and he constantly encourages students to apply.

"They are bright, they are engaged in their studies, they are curious about the world," Peppers said. "I think they are students who, because of their excitement, could really make a difference in their chosen professions."

Bier is one of these students.

"Alea is an example of a student who has excelled academically and at the same time is one of the stars of the woman's softball team," Peppers said. "It shows me that she knows how to balance her time.

In the spring of 2012, Bier was one of the softball "dirty dozen," a name that the team was given because it had only 12 players. The team was fourth in the NCAA Division III Championship tournament. Bier plays both 1st and 2nd base positions for the Maroons.

"I think [softball] teaches you the value of hard work and the more you put into something, the more returns you will see," Bier said. "I think a lot that it teaches you is teamwork and how to work with others and how difficult that is sometimes."

The lessons that she learned through softball were extremely valuable when she moved to Washington.

Students intern for prestigious organizations in the nation's capital. Some Roanoke students have interned at the State Department, the White House, the Supreme Court and many other high status locations.

But they are not expected to find these positions by themselves. They have help from the program's internship coordinator, Laura Groth, who helps students find internship opportunities.

"Once you have an internship, she helps you get set up with the right people and gets your paperwork through and so forth," Bier said.

Bier applied for three law enforcement-related internships. She was offered a position at all three organizations.

She decided on an internship at the office of the U.S. representative of the International Criminal Police Organization. INTERPOL Washington facilitates communication between U.S. law enforcement and other law enforcement across the globe.

Bier was able to spend her summer working with the IT department of INTERPOL Washington. Through her internship, Bier not only made valuable connections, but she also caught a vision for the future.

"It has helped me narrow my career focus and helped me to realize the magnitude of numbers of federal law enforcement agencies out there," she said.

Prior to last fall she thought she wanted to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Drug Enforcement Administration. Now, she is setting her sights on serving with the Federal Air Marshals.

Not only do the students in the Washington spring semester program have a phenomenal professional experience, there also are benefits of the program outside of the office.  

One of the perks is a top notch penthouse Arlington apartment in which students live during the semester.

"The apartments are impeccable," Bier said. "They are so beautiful. They are way bigger than anything I could ever afford on my own."

On Wednesdays, program coordinators take students throughout Washington to give them an insider's look into the city. The excursions included meeting White House staffers and a U.S. Trade representative and attending special presentations at various memorials.

"It provides a huge broad spectrum of experiences," Bier said. "It adds a whole other level of richness to your education here."

Applications for the Washington spring semester are due in October. Applicants should have a 3.0 GPA and be a junior or senior, though sophomores are accepted in special circumstances.

"It's good for you," Peppers said. "Students have good excuses, but sometimes I think students don't want to leave their little comfort zone at Roanoke College."

Bier said she understands the hesitation that some students feel, but she urges anyone thinking about applying to the program to do it.

"Once you look back, you will never regret it," she said. "It is worth anything that you are giving up. I gave up my fall semester here and that was totally worth it to me."

-Published April 24, 2013

About the Author

Kayla Fuller '14 of Damascus, Va., is a student writer for Roanoke's Public Relations office. She is a communications major, with a minor in literary studies, and she is involved in several campus organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Young Life and Lambda Pi Eta, a communications honor society. She also is a tour guide for Roanoke's Admissions office. Kayla plans to pursue a career in public relations.

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