Many engineering students never consider a future career in politics or public policy, even though their expertise can often be critical. A new seven-week Washington D.C. internship program piloted by Dean Louis Martin-Vega and John English, engineering dean at the University of Arkansas, aims to change that.
During the internship, students gain valuable experience while helping with research on policy proposals related to engineering and working on typical congressional intern tasks, such as giving Capitol tours or organizing mail. Their engineering knowledge gives them a unique perspective on issues facing the country, while they also get to learn about how the policymaking process works.
Last year, NC State sent four students to D.C. for the first summer of the internship program. Students receive a $3,000 stipend, free room and board and transportation to D.C. and back at the end of the program.
In 2018, Tyler Conrad, a junior industrial engineering major, and Claire DeCroix, a sophomore chemical engineering major, interned in North Carolina Rep. David Rouzer’s office. Abby Kinlaw, a sophomore environmental engineering major, and Jansen Quarandillo, a sophomore construction engineering major, interned with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chaired by Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster.
All four students shared that they were excited to live in D.C. for a summer and to get a chance to see how Congress operates.
Conrad said he felt well prepared to assist with policy and campaign research, thanks to the research he does in his NC State classes.
“It’s important for engineers to be engaged in politics because new innovative technology brings with it new challenges,” he said. “There will need to be certain laws surrounding that technology in order for it to be effectively introduced to the public.”
Kinlaw also drew parallels between the research she did during her internship and the problem-solving mindset she uses in her engineering classes.
“I think it’s very key for engineers to be more directly engaged in politics if we want to increase awareness and understanding of — and action on — the complex and increasingly difficult problems facing us in the future,” Kinlaw said.
The internship program also helped the students build up their networks and improve their communication skills. Students were able to attend congressional hearings and meetings and, outside their working hours, they went to lectures and toured D.C. landmarks.
“It showed a different side of engineering,” DeCroix said. “We get kind of wrapped up in our technical world and classes, and it was really nice to be in a different kind of atmosphere and to share our knowledge.”