Roanoke College interns in Washington D.C. are back to work

The U.S. government is back in business and that means several Roanoke College student interns are returning to Washington D.C.'s museums, government offices and Capitol Hill.

The Oct. 1 government shutdown created a unique challenge for four Roanoke students who are spending the fall semester in Washington, D.C., as part of the Lutheran College Washington Semester's internship program. It provides an opportunity for students enrolled in a select group of Lutheran colleges, including Roanoke, to live and intern in the nation's capital.

Roanoke students spent the shutdown's furlough weeks volunteering with Washington, D.C., area nonprofits and advocacy groups. Washington Semester staff directed these students to various work options.

Tyler Merrill '14, an intern at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, volunteered three days a week with Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a nonprofit that serves the city's at-risk and homeless youth population.

Merrill had been working informally at the Holocaust Museum since September, and Oct. 2 was the scheduled start of his internship there. The government shutdown now has pushed his internship start date back to Oct. 22.

Still, Merrill said he made good use of his furlough time. He worked in the Sasha Bruce food pantry and helped to organize clothing donations. He also sat in on meetings to discuss the logistics of housing Washington D.C.'s homeless population in the winter.

Two other Roanoke students, Anna Lewis '15 and Haley Toresdahl '14, used a few of their furlough days to volunteer at the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Working at the council related directly to Lewis' involvement in the Interfaith Council at Roanoke, for which she is vice president.

Toresdahl is interning at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, while Lewis is a social media intern for education and public programs at the National Archives and Records Administration.

Ellen Fields '15, another Roanoke student in Washington, interns in the office of Colorado Senator Mark Udall.

Mathilda Nassar '15, an intern at the Palestinian Liberation Organization, is the only Roanoke student in the Washington Semester program who was not furloughed

Lewis, who returns to the National Archives today, said the furlough days gave her more free time to explore Washington D.C.

"I found some places that were not closed, like Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, or less heavily enforced parks, like the C&O canal, to explore," she said.

The shutdown not only halted student internships. It caused Washington Semester staff to scramble to find new locations for weekly field trips that the program plans for students. Most all of the planned field trip locations, such as the U.S. Department of State and the Washington Harbour, were closed. Students instead visited the National Building Museum and the Brookings Institution for a briefing with Ambassador Jan Eliasson, U.N. deputy secretary general.

The Washington Semester staff, which includes Dr. Nancy Joyner, dean and executive director, "worked tirelessly to minimize the impact that the government shutdown had on our students," said Dr. Todd Peppers, associate professor of public affairs at Roanoke and the College's faculty representative for the Washington Semester program.

-Published Oct. 18, 2013

Released: October 18, 2013