USDA internship provides hands-on experience for Maroon in D.C.
Haley Toresdahl has been a Maroon since her first day of high school. That's right; the mascot of Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, where Haley attended, was also a "Maroon."
Last fall, Toresdahl joined four fellow Roanoke College Maroons as participants in the Lutheran College Washington Semester Program. She and her peers lived and worked in Washington, D.C., while also taking classes, volunteering and getting to know the nation's capital.
Toresdahl, a political science major with a minor in religious studies and a concentration in legal studies, interned at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's faith-based and neighborhood partnerships office. Her work on USDA initiatives overlapped with the work of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and she often found herself interacting with White House staffers.
Toresdahl says that her hands-on experience at USDA was unforgettable, starting with a meeting about the Affordable Care Act soon after her arrival.
"On my second day, we had a meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building," she says. "It was an incredible experience to go to that meeting with White House advisors and staff. We walked out of the building, and we were right next to the White House. ... I never thought I would be working that close on healthcare. It's really opened my eyes to policy."
She also attended a widely publicized congressional hearing where Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius was questioned. "I was sitting three rows behind her," Toresdahl recalls. "It was incredible to see first-hand."
During much of the fall, Toresdahl was working one-on-one with the director in her office. "I feel like a colleague instead of an intern," she says. "I'm able to voice my opinion about what we are doing, insert ideas about something we are working on."
As someone who wants to build a career focused on hunger issues, Toresdahl's experience in Washington solidified her future plans. "This has definitely opened up my eyes to all the different options for public service," she says.
Like many Washington Semester participants, Toresdahl thought that she would study abroad during her time at Roanoke. She is glad that she decided to spend her semester in Washington, and she says her cultural experiences have been as rich as the professional ones.
"My roommates make fun of me because I plan our weekends around what festivals are going on in D.C.," Toresdahl says, laughing.
Not surprisingly, one of her favorite spots in Washington was the historic Eastern Market, an open-air market with local fresh food and a flea market and crafts vendors on weekends.
"It made me so happy whenever I went there," says Toresdahl. "I'm all about fresh produce and buying local and getting to know the community."
Toresdahl took every opportunity to get to know Washington D.C., and she says she expects to return to the city to work and live someday.
Traci Crockett '01