(Portland, Ore.)—A junior who aspires to improve conditions in Africa will be one step closer to his goal this summer, learning political processes from a seasoned leader on education and human rights issues. Jonathan Shectman, an international affairs major from Warrenton, Virginia, will work in the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer through a congressional internship program of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).
The program, which places eight students in Congressional internships, was created to provide an opportunity for students with disabilities to work on Capitol Hill and enrich their academic studies and professional experience. For Shectman, who is dyslexic, the highly competitive internship is just one more achievement in a series of academic and extra-curricular successes that include being named a Mary Stewart Rogers Scholar, making the Dean’s List, and volunteering in Portland public schools to help students with learning and behavioral difficulties.
Read about his internship and how he hopes to integrate the experience with his Lewis & Clark education to pursue policy changes in the future in the interview below:
Can you describe the internship program you were selected for and explain the type of work you’ll be doing?
I was selected to do a summer congressional internship as part of a program sponsored by the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation and the American Association of People with Disabilities. I’ll be working in Washington DC, in the office of Congressman Steny Hoyer, the Democratic Majority Leader in the House of Representatives.
My responsibilities will most likely include legislative research, constituent services, and giving tours of the Capitol to visitors.
What do you hope to take away from the program at the end of the summer?
I hope that by the end of the summer I’ll have a better sense of how legislation moves through Congress and what goes on in a congressman’s office. I’m thrilled to be doing this internship during an election year. I’ve been volunteering for Barack Obama’s campaign, and it will be fascinating to watch the way the campaign develops from inside Congressman Hoyer’s office.
How do you think the internship will fit in with your academic work at Lewis & Clark?
I’ve been majoring in international affairs, with a minor in communication. I’m hoping the internship will help me understand better how our government works. I know a fair amount about international affairs, but I am really hoping to gain an understanding of how domestic legislation works and about Congress’s role in making foreign policy decisions. I hope the internship will help me integrate theoretical issues with how things actually happen in practice. One of the great things about going to a liberal arts college is being exposed to different disciplines and being able to make connections between those and the outside world.
What college-sponsored trips have you participated in, and how have those experiences affected you—either in your major or, more generally, in your outlook or perspective?
I traveled to Kenya for fall semester and participated in a spring break service trip to New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina.
I grew up in a safe and comfortable home. I never had any worries about food or healthcare. But I also learned from my parents that many people weren’t so fortunate. It’s one thing to hear this and another thing to observe it first hand. My experiences in New Orleans and in Kenya, taught me about the real hardships that many people face. When I was in Africa, I was moved by how much the students I met appreciated being able to go to school to get an education.
What projects or programs are you involved in outside of the classroom?
The most important volunteer work I’ve done at Lewis & Clark has been with Dale Holloway, the coordinator of Student Support Services. I’m part of a group of Lewis & Clark students that meets with students in the Portland public schools who have learning or behavioral issues. We try to be role models for them and let them know that it is possible to succeed in college.
Also, I’m a very outdoorsy person. Two summers ago, I passed an extensive series of exams to become an assistant scuba diving instructor. Next summer, I hope to become certified with the Handicapped Scuba Association, so that I can bring my love of scuba diving to people with physical disabilities.
What are you hoping to do after graduation?
I plan to spend some time traveling, possibly back to Kenya and Tanzania, and I’m thinking about doing some volunteer work there. Afterwards, I plan to go to graduate school to study International Affairs.
After that, I could see myself doing a number of things. A position of some kind on Capitol Hill is certainly a possibility, as is working for an NGO. My time in Africa was really a life-changing experience for me, and I could see myself working on issues related to Africa.