Katie Rodihan ’14 was drawn to CMC by the College’s focus on pragmatic education. What she learned in the fall of 2012 is that the Washington Program is the perfect embodiment of that ideal. For Rodihan, it was an exciting time to be in D.C. with the presidential race in full swing and budget negotiations front and center.
“You learn about issues from all angles: at your internship, in class where your professors help you understand the nuances and strategies at plan, and then new perspectives from your classmates who are working on the same or similar issues at their internships,” she says. “Then you go to work the next day with a more in-depth and well-rounded understanding. That process helps Washington Program students shine as interns.”
In addition, according to Rodihan, D.C. is just, well, unique. “There is only so much you can learn about American government from a textbook,” she says. “The best way to learn about how our government actually functions is by experiencing it firsthand.”
The Washington Program gave Rodihan that opportunity with structured courses that help Program participants make the most of the opportunity. “For example, the big issue during my semester was the so-called ‘fiscal cliff,’ when a set of tax breaks that were set to expire at the New Year,” Rodihan says. “Everyone was working on it, but in order to completely understand it, you needed to understand nuances in budget and tax policy and look past the sound bites you’d hear from politicians or newspapers.
“Instead of throwing us to the sharks at our internships,” she continues, “Professor Haskell tailored our Washington Program course to learn those nuances, what the fiscal cliff meant for various tax brackets and the federal budget, and what deals both sides wanted to reach. By learning about policies in the classroom, and seeing them created and negotiated in practice, we were able to get a complete and realistic picture of the legislative process.”
Rodihan graduated from CMC with a Government and Economics major and during her time in the Washington Program she says she learned to speak up, be proactive and create opportunities.
“In the summer, DC is packed with interns; you might have 20 interns in one Senate office,” she says. “You don’t get to interact with full time staff as much and it’s hard to have enough substantive work to go around. During the school year, fewer interns mean you’re much more integrated with the staff and given more responsibility. You have a chance to be a real part of the team and are less likely to get lumped in as ‘one of the interns.’”
Rodihan says she learned to use that situation as an opportunity to get face-time with senior staff and speak up when she wanted to work on certain projects. “I learned to show interest in issues and searched out work,” she says. “Every interaction can be an opportunity. I remember walking into a senior economist’s office to deliver papers and taking advantage of that face-time to express interest in their academic work and demonstrate that I understood their topic area and wanted to contribute. I ended up having the opportunity to work directly with that senior economist. The Washington Program helps you learn to create opportunities and get the most out of your time in DC. I am just a huge advocate of it.”
After graduation from CMC Rodihan returned to D.C. and worked at the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship as a Research Analyst/Staff Assistant, developing policy solutions to support entrepreneurship among women and underserved communities. After the midterm elections, she went to work at the White House for the Council of Economic Advisers (the same office in which she interned during the Washington Program).
“I spent a year there working as Special Assistant to the Members, handling their schedules, helping manage projects and managing production of the Economic Report of the President,” Rodihan says. “It was a really interesting year; I got to meet President Obama a few times, played with Bo and Sunny (the ‘first dogs’), and I learned the policymaking process has much more in common with Professor Pitney’s Congress Simulation than you’d expect. Now I’m in San Francisco doing strategic communications, hoping to turn back toward politics eventually and work in public affairs and lobbying.”
For Rodihan, participation in the Washington Program is still paying dividends, especially on the career side. “Connections I made during the Washington Program directly helped me get a summer internship after the program and one of my post-grad jobs” she says. “The summer after junior year, I was able to intern at the Brookings Institution because a senior economist I worked with at the White House picked up the phone and called a scholar I wanted to work for at Brookings. Then, in 2014 when Senate leadership flipped and I was looking for a job, having advocates at the Council of Economic Advisers was instrumental to my application to work there. “
Rodihan says she can’t emphasize enough the positive impact the Washington Program has on the career track of participants by providing a foundation to build a strong, diverse and lasting network of relationships that lead to internship and job opportunities in D.C. after graduation.
“On a personal note, I made close and lasting friendships with the students on my program,” Rodihan says. “The Program is an intense semester of working, studying and discussing all sorts of topics. You become really close with the other students. I went from barely knowing anyone to eagerly organizing and looking forward to reunion hangouts. To this day, some of my best friends were made through that program.”
What’s more, to this day, Rodihan says the finds herself referencing books she had first read in Dr. Spalding’s class. “It completely changed my conception of foreign policy and the United States’ role in the world,” she says. “I expected my internship to be the main thing I would get out of the program, but Dr. Spalding and Professor Haskell’s classes were some of my favorite classes at CMC.”
As far as fondest memories of the Program are concerned, Rodihan cites two: “I staffed Alan Greenspan at a reception,” she says. “It was awe-inspiring to spend an afternoon alongside someone who has had such a large impact on modern economic history, and to hear his stories and thoughts on the U.S. economy. My most fun memory was definitely bowling in the White House Bowling Alley. It’s this tiny, two-lane alley in the basement, and one Friday during work my office decided to go down and challenge each other to a bowling game. The bowling alley is lined with pictures of recent presidents playing there.”
Rodihan is remains a staunch advocate to the enduring value of participation in the Washington Program believing that there is no better practical education than being fully immersed in government during the Program.
“The Program offers a more in-depth experience than simply interning in D.C. over the summer or taking classes on campus,” she says. “I remember coming out of the program thinking, ‘I can’t believe anyone could major in government without doing the Program.’ The ability to learn and live government at the same time is the most comprehensive and interesting way to learn about politics and policymaking.”