Spring in the Capitol
Meet Jesse Nelson and Monica Gutierrez, two Augustana juniors who are part of the Lutheran College Washington Semester.
Jesse Nelson, class of 2016
Hometown: Milbank, South Dakota
Majors: Political Science/Gov’t & Int’l Affairs and Philosophy
Q. What inspired you to participate in the Lutheran College Semester?
A. I’ve always wanted to go to Washington, D.C. So for me, it was an easy decision when the opportunity came up. The way the Lutheran College Washington Semester is designed is perfect for keeping costs down (as much as one can in an expensive city like Washington) while allowing for the experience of living in an incredible city.
Q. Tell us about your internship.
A. My work day starts, officially at 9 a.m. I usually get to the office between 8:40 and 8:50, which allows me some time to get settled and ready to go for the day. After that, each day brings new adventures; no two days are identical. I of course give a lot of tours of the Capitol, which is a major highlight of the job for me. I also engage constituents and other offices on the phone. Listening to their concerns and assisting constituents with their needs is a gratifying experience, and one that is central to my duties. Typically my day ends at 6 p.m., though some nights I leave a bit earlier to make it to my evening classes on time.
Q. You’re interning for U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD). What have you enjoyed most about your internship?
A. I really enjoy my daily interaction with South Dakotans. Whether it be on the phone or in person on a tour, getting to talk with people from all over South Dakota has both taught me a ton about the state, and allowed me to feel like I never left home.
Q. The program includes two seminar courses. What are you taking?
A. I am taking courses entitled “Business and Public Policy” and “The Supreme Court and Controversial Cases.” Both have been very helpful in planning for the future, because in addition to being generally great courses, they have also featured guest speakers who live and work in D.C.
Q. Tell us about your volunteer work.
A. I have spent my time with two organizations. The first was the Capitol Hill Chorale. Being away from the Collegiate Chorale this semester has left me wishing for more music in my life. So when the chance came to volunteer as an usher for this amazing ensemble, I jumped! They performed beautifully Faure’s Requiem with the Capitol Orchestra. It was a great evening. I also have spent my volunteer time working with an issue I am personally passionate about: animal rescue. I work with Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, which is a non-euthanizing organization, as a dog handler at adoption events around the D.C. metro.
Q. Outside of your internship, classes, and volunteer hours, how have you spent your time in D.C.?
A. Exploring, exploring, and some more exploring. As a lover of history, there is seemingly no end to how much there is to learn. This city (and surrounding area) has an incredible history.
Q. Favorite experience so far?
A. Touring the White House, by far. I will never forget standing inside the Blue Room, overlooking the south lawn and the Washington Monument, and having it hit me that I really was inside the President’s house.
Q. Most valuable lesson you’ve learned from the Washington semester program?
A. The most valuable thing I’ve learned is to be proactive, and to seek out constructive criticism.
Q. How has this experience informed and shaped your plans for the future?
A. I know I want to be involved in any way I can. Public Policy matters. Whether people consider themselves “political” or not, the decisions made by government impacts them. I want to make sure that government is doing the best job it can to help those who need it, and stays out of the way when it should. Washington, D.C., may seem so far removed from South Dakota, but I can now definitely say that what happens here matters to those who work out there.
Monica Gutierrez, Class of 2016
Hometown: Watertown, South Dakota
Major: Political Science/Gov’t & Int’l Affairs
Q. Tell us about your internship.
A. I have the privilege to intern at the Children’s Defense Fund, a non-profit that is based out of the Civil Rights Era. The founder, Ms. Marian Wright Edelman, played a role during the civil rights movement and thus founded the organization with that ideology in mind. I intern in the Freedom Schools division, which is a program that works to enhance children’s learning through an extensive reading curriculum, working with policy and logistics.
Q. What are you taking and where do you go for class?
A. I am enrolled in “Art and Architecture of Washington, D.C.” and “Controversy and the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“Art and Architecture” is a combination of in-class studies of the art works that can be found in the Smithsonian Art museums and within D.C. as well as study tours to these locations to see and study the artwork or architecture. “Controversy and the U.S. Supreme Court” takes place in the classroom with both studies of controversial cases and the opportunity to hear from individuals who have a connection to the Supreme Court, including a previous solicitor general. Both classes have provided deep insight into the history and construction of D.C., making the experience that much better.
Q. What’s a typical day like?
A. A typical day in D.C. will include business attire, caffeine, and the Metro running behind schedule. One gets used to the fast pace of the city and speed walking becomes a sport, however in the city where the President resides you can count on being late to your destination if the motorcade is strolling the streets of D.C. The week is filled with a vigorous internship, homework, and the chance to explore the city.
Q. Tell us about your time outside of work.
A. I have visited as many Smithsonian’s as possible, the Kennedy Center for some quality performances, the many raved about restaurants including Georgetown Cupcakes, Good Stuff Eatery, where President Obama is honored with a burger in his name, and the countless Brunch spots, and participated in the plethora of activities that occur during the famous Cherry Blossom Festival.
Q. Most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far from this program?
A. That everywhere you go and everyone you meet has an impact in some way. I have met people who have been in the same position I have been and they are now doing what they love. A connection like that not only helps me get ahead career wise, but gives me hope that hard work pays off.
Q. Favorite Washington semester experience so far?
A. A close tie between the White House tour and the Pentagon tour, both of which have been on my bucket list. Upon entering the White House you are hit with the realization that it is the President’s humble abode, humble because it is small in stature but grand in value, a house in which history has been made and continues to be made. That realization alone is enough to make anyone proud to be an American. The Pentagon had a lot to offer but the best part by far was viewing the 9/11 memorial that was dedicated by the Pentagon. Every aspect of the memorial has significance, down to the aluminum wall behind it. There is very little that can compare to that experience.
Q. You’ll return to Augustana as a senior. How has this experience informed and/or shaped your plans for the future?
A. It has reinforced my future ambitions and career goals. Before heading off to D.C. I was on the fence about many things, including grad school or law school. While being here, I’ve had the opportunity to receive advice from professionals who have had to make the same decisions. With their help, things are clearer for me.