'I was really upset because ... this would have been a really good opportunity,' says Phoebe White, an MSU senior furloughed from her White House internship.Michigan State University student and White House intern Pheobe White poses for a photograph in Arlington, VA October 4, 2013. (AP/Molly Riley) (Molly Riley / AP)
Washington— Michigan State University senior Phoebe White had scored her dream internship working for the White House — until the shutdown forced her out of her position.
White is among a fall class of interns throughout Washington who are learning first-hand the reality of partisan politics when brinkmanship on the budget cost them their internships in federal offices Oct. 1. Eight student interns from Michigan State and the University of Michigan are sidelined by the shutdown.
Detroit native White is hoping politicians find a solution before her semester in Washington runs out in December.
“I was really upset because I feel that this would have been a really good opportunity and then it just kind of shut down,” said White, whose internship in the presidential correspondence office was to review President Barack Obama’s mail and listen to callers’ comments.
“I loved reading his mail every day,” said White, 21. “I just thought it was a really cool experience..”
The failure of Congress to pass a budget meant about 800,000 federal workers were furloughed, Washington’s Smithsonian museums were shuttered and national monuments closed. For many college interns moving to Washington for the semester, the furloughs of their supervisors meant they were shut out of their federal offices as well.
The impact has been apparent at Michigan State and University of Michigan semester study programs. Of the 11 MSU students in the nation’s capital, at least two are left at home daily while their classmates head to work at their unaffected internships.
Another 23 students from the University of Michigan are living and interning in Washington, but six are currently out of work due to the shutdown, said Margaret Howard, program manager of the Michigan in Washington semester study program.
Students intern during the week at federal agencies and other Washington organizations while taking academic courses. The programs, officials said, have served as resume boosters, networking opportunities and springboards for jobs in Washington.
Furlough has helped some
So far, the out-of-work students are catching up on their homework, and staff has advised them of non-federal museums and tourists spots they can visit.
This semester started with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the Navy Yard shooting, the government shutdown and on Thursday the shooting death of a Connecticut mother on Capitol Hill who attempted to drive through White House barricades.
“I don’t know how much more history this group can take,” Howard said.
For other interns on Capitol Hill and in the news media, the shutdown has enhanced their responsibilities.
Jalessa Brown, a Michigan State political science student, said her internship at the office of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow has led to more responsibility during the shutdown. Members of Congress have discretion in determining how many staffers will be furloughed. With the many of the Lansing Democrat’s staff out of the office, the 22-year-old Brown said she is no longer just answering phones but getting more first-hand experience on legislative work.
But nothing prepared her for Thursday. Working in Stabenow’s first-floor office, she was close to the shooting that sent shock waves throughout Capitol Hill and forced a lockdown of Congress.
“It was absolutely scary,” Brown said. “We heard gun shots. Because the Navy Yard shooting just happened, I was really nervous, and we went to the conference room and locked down.”
For now, college officials have asked the students to focus on their academic work in hopes the shutdown will soon be remedied. But if the closure persists, the students will have to consider back-up plans.
“I hope this thing gets resolved and does not go on to the end of the semester,” said Oumatie Marajh, director of study abroad and study away programs at MSU’s College of Social Sciences. “That would be a disaster” for the entire country.
Dongwon Kim, 24, another MSU student, had to go home when the government shut down. He was interning at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that’s housed at the U.S. Department of Education.
“I’m hoping that it doesn’t last long, but it’s sad,” Kim said, originally from South Korea. “It’s all the government officials who (are) working for the U.S. — they are the ones who are getting affected and the actual victims.”
White said she feels especially bad for her supervisors who have families to support and are furloughed without pay. Like most Americans, she just wants the politicians to end the shutdown.
“I understand everybody has disagreements,” White said, “but I feel shutting down the government, that’s just not fair for the American people.”