Semester on Capitol Hill opens student’s eyes to life in Washington
The mountains of Southwest Virginia made Ellen "Elli" Fields feel at home right away at Roanoke College.
"The campus seemed really happy," Fields says as she reflects on her decision to attend Roanoke. "I knew I didn't want to stay in Colorado, and Virginia was the next best thing," she adds.
Fields did expand her studies beyond Roanoke's campus last fall, when she participated in the Lutheran College Washington Semester Program.
Fields considered studying abroad during her junior year, but decided that spending time in Washington, D.C. would offer her a more unique experience. The Washington Semester Program allows students to work nearly full-time at internships while attending classes, volunteering and exploring, all in the nation's capital.
As an intern with Colorado Sen. Mark Udall's office, Fields got a real sense of life on Capitol Hill during her time in Washington. She spent four days a week doing research regarding legislation and conducting constituent outreach.
"I got to see Secretary of State John Kerry," she says. "You get to see so many different, important people...Senators hop on the train with you and you don't even blink an eye," she adds, referring to an underground tram system that carries members of Congress and staffers throughout the Capitol complex.
The international relations major says her most memorable experience in Washington was visiting the Senate Gallery to watch votes.
"You get to point out who's who...see the Senators in action," Fields says. Overall, though, she says the required weekly field trips and other experiential learning opportunities are what made the experience unforgettable.
As part of the program, Fields and her peers visited the Pentagon (and met with Pentagon Press Secretary Jeffrey Little), witnessed Supreme Court hearings, and attended protests or demonstrations. They also were required to volunteer for a non-profit and charity organization of their choice in D.C.
Weekends allowed busy program participants free time to explore all that Washington has to offer. Fields took advantage of the time and visited the Smithsonian museums, the Kennedy Center, local favorite Eastern Market, and the newly completed Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
After a semester on Capitol Hill, Fields isn't sure that she wants to make her career there, but she now has lots of ideas about where she might go after graduation. She's considering joining the Peace Corps and then seeking work as an activist for a non-governmental organization.
"I wouldn't trade it for the world," she says of the experience.
by Traci Crockett '01