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Spotlight

on

College to Congress

Interview with

Audrey Henson

Founder and CEO

  1. Please tell us about your life prior to College to Congress.

  I was raised by a single mom in a small Texas town. We moved to Florida shortly after 5th grade in search of a

  better life. We did not have a lot of money growing up. In fact, the only reason I could afford to go to college was

  because of the Federal Pell grant. This is why College to Congress serves students who are Pell-grant eligible and

  come from other families with financial need. I started at St. Petersburg College, a state community college, and

  earned my associates degree in Political Science. I later transferred and graduated from the University of South

  Florida with bachelor’s degrees  in Political Science and Theatre. 

 

  I’ve been working since I was 14! My first job was ColdStone Creamery. In college I worked as a server and bartender

  to pay for school and other living expenses. In the summer of 2013, I landed my internship in Congress and that

  completely changed the trajectory of my career. Every job I’ve had since then has been a direct result of that

  internship. I went on to work as a congressional staffer, production coordinator for a political advertising company,

  even manage a congressional campaign!

  2. Please tell us about your internship in Congress while you were a college student. 

  There are two bodies in Congress, the House and the Senate. Members of the US House of Representatives have

  two offices: a DC office and a district office. US Senators have an office in DC and multiple district offices because

  they have to cover an entire state. Congress operates year-round with certain work periods “in session” or “out

  of session/recess.” The summer session typically convenes end of May through the beginning of August.  My

  congressional internship was during the summer.

 

  I interned for my hometown representative, former Congressman Joe Barton (TX-06), in his Washington, DC office.

  I really lucked out because I got my internship the old-fashioned way - applying online. A lot of internships go to

  students whose parents donated to the campaign or are referred by people who are already working on the Hill.

  I’m a perfect example of the power of being in the room where it happens. I learned that the office next door was

  hiring for a staff assistant. After my internship with Rep. Barton, I was hired as a staff assistant in Senator Marco

  Rubio’s (R-FL) office.

 

  This is why C2C works to build a robust list of partner congressional offices so that students don’t have to worry

  about having the political connections to land an internship. 

  3. Why are most Congressional internships unpaid and what are the consequences of this tradition? 

  Congressional interns were paid from 1974-1994 as part of the LBJ Internship program named after President

  Lyndon Baines Johnson. It allowed offices to host 2 LBJ interns per year and granted a stipend of $500/month for

  two months. Approximately 300 interns worked in Congress due to this program. Unfortunately, the program was

  cut as part of  budget negotiations 1994 and remained unfunded until 2017 when C2C and other organizations

  started advocating for paid internships. In 2018, Congress voted and appropriated funding for interns, with House

  receiving $20,000 and Senate offices receiving $50,000.

 

  In any industry, unpaid and low paid internships create a significant barrier to entry for students with financial

  constraints and a limited network. They simply cannot find a realistic way to make money and take care of all the

  other responsibilities that come along with the opportunity.  If you don’t have family or friends in a city it makes

  the cost burden even higher. Washington, DC is one of the most expensive cities in America. It can cost upwards of

  $10,000 to afford a summer here when you consider required expenses and everyday living. 

 

  When students forgo applying to these opportunities we are missing out on the critical voices, perspectives

  necessary to solve our nation’s toughest challenges because the people with lived experiences and cultural

  competencies are not at the table. 

  4.  When and why did you start College to Congress, and what did you hope to achieve?

  The idea for College to Congress came to me in 2016. It was born from a moment of gratitude. It was a Friday night

  and I was writing in my journal. I was 26 and reflecting on everything I had accomplished in the first quarter of my

  life. First to graduate from college, first to move away from home, first to break the cycle of poverty and have a

  six-figure job. Everything changed after my summer as an intern.

 

  My goal is to remove the barriers to success for other students who may have backgrounds similar to mine and

  ensure our democracy reflects the people it’s intended to serve.  More than 60% of our program alumni are first-

  generation college students. 

 

  Since we’ve started, our interns have gone on to secure full-time and part-time job offers in Congress, study

  abroad and apply for international fellowships, work for major news networks and on political campaigns, even

  purchase their first home by age 23! If they can do it, you can do it too!

  5.  Please tell us about the stipends and expenses that College to Congress pays for its interns.

  We take care of everything! We pay for your flights to/from DC, housing, meals, a travel stipend to get around

  town, we give you a professional wardrobe, and even give you a flex stipend for unexpected things that pop up. 

  We don’t want you to feel pressured to pick up a part-time job so you can instead focus 100% on being the best

  intern you can be. 

 

  

  6.  How and when do students apply for your internships

  Go to www.collegetocongress.org/apply for everything you need to know about qualifying for next summer’s

  program. In short, we look for college juniors, seniors, and recent graduates. You must qualify for the federal Pell

  grant or receive ADA funding. Our program is also open to DACA students. Applications opened on Oct. 1 and will

  close on Nov. 30. Students will be notified around late January, early February if they have been accepted into

  the program For more specifics, the timeline of the application process can be found on our website!

 

  

  7.  Is there a minimum GPA or other similar requirements to apply? 

  Students with 3.0 GPAs are competitive, however, we understand that when you’re working one, two, and even

  three jobs to make ends meet your school work may take a hit. If you meet our other school and financial

  requirements then definitely apply! 

 

  

  8.  Do interns get to choose whom they work for and, if not, how are they assigned to someone?

  Members of Congress are elected to serve their communities so as much as possible we try and place our interns

  with their representative in the House or Senate. When that’s not possible, either due to geography or party

  affiliation, then we trust our program director, Kasie Clark, to find an office that will be a good fit for the intern.  

 

  

  9. Please describe the typical duties and responsibilities of an intern.

  Congress runs on interns! Depending on whether you work for a Representative, Senator, or in a Committee like

  Education and Labor, the role may vary. In general, interns are responsible for answering phones, responding to

  constituent letters, giving tours of the Capitol, attending briefings, and writing memos for senior legislative staff!

 

  

  10. Does C2C help interns find an apartment and are there social activities during the summer?

  We take care of housing for all students who are accepted into our program. Living arrangements are separated

  by gender. Our intern classes include Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. The summer is busy, in a good

  way! When you first arrive we will host a 3-day bootcamp to get the crash course on everything you need to know

  before your first day of work.  We host a bi-weekly leadership series throughout the summer. You are in DC so

  there will be a TON of events and receptions as well.

 

  

  11. Where does the money for intern salaries and expenses come from? 

  We raise the money! My primary responsibilities as CEO are to raise money and raise awareness about College to

  Congress. We are funded through the generosity of corporate donors, family foundations, grants, and individuals

  who are passionate about our work!

  12. What else would you like us to know about C2C internships?

  Applications close on Nov. 30! If you want to join me in DC for the summer of 2020, apply now! If you know a student

  who may be a good fit, please spread the word. 

 

  

 College to Congress:

 * is a non-profit organization

 * places low-income students in internships

    with the U.S. House or Senate

 * provides a stipend to interns and pays for

    their expenses including rent, food,

    clothes and transportation,