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Last modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2004

SPEA internship program offers IU students life-changing experiences in Washington, D.C.

EDITORS: George Vlahakis at IU Media Relations can provide you with contact information for students involved in this program. A complete list is available at

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As Indiana University graduate Maria Beyzerov looks back on her IU internship in Washington, D.C., the highlight has to be when she introduced Secretary of State Colin Powell at a U.S. State Department gathering.

IU senior Jonathan Kohl attended a meeting with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and sat within 10 feet of the Bush Cabinet member. Lindsey Walton, another December graduate, helped to plan a major conference for the Environmental Protection Agency.

These are just a few of the meaningful experiences collected by 28 students who participated last fall in the Washington Leadership Program of IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Each semester, the program places IU students in internships with federal government and military agencies which offer opportunities to apply what they have learned in their classes. Another 30 students are heading to the nation's capital this month.

For example, Beyzerov was placed in charge of all 98 domestic State Department interns. She coordinated their events, including brown bag lunches with top department officials and tours of government agencies.

"Some of the highlights were the White House tour, the Pentagon tour and the CIA tour, which they don't have public tours of anymore," she said. "It was definitely a privilege for us to go there. If I hadn't had the position that I had this semester, I never would have gotten to go there."

Beyzerov also managed orientation activities for 40 incoming civil service employees. "They put a lot of responsibility on me," said the Carmel High School graduate, who introduced Powell at a Dec. 10 meeting of 120 State Department staff, including high-ranking officials. She coordinated the event as well with 48-hour advance notice.

"A lot of the human resources classes prepared me," she recalled. "I could apply what I've learned in class to what I'm doing now."

Orville Powell, director of undergraduate programs in SPEA, said these kinds of experiences are not unusual for students in the Washington Leadership Program. Students this past semester worked in offices for Sen. Richard Lugar, the House Ways and Means Committee, the Federal Aviation Administration and the armed services, where other students again will be placed this spring.

Since 1985, more than 800 students from all eight IU campuses have participated in the program, said Blanca Miller, SPEA assistant director of undergraduate career services. In addition to working four days of the week at their internship, students take two upper-level seminar courses in public affairs and policy during the semester.

"I spent 33 years in city management," Powell said. "I like getting students interested in working in government, and hopefully they will participate later as a candidate for office or just as more informed, active citizens.

"Young people at the age of these students have an idea about what they want to do, but they're not quite sure," Powell added. Their employers "really do give them some nice assignments, bring them into their agency and make them feel a part of it. It is one of the first times that our students will have worked in a major organization."

Walton interned in the EPA's Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds and worked on a planning committee for its Watershed Initiative. She helped organize an EPA conference in Portland, Ore., evaluated grant proposals for the Watershed Management Council and prepared reports for the office.

She also received government training provided to EPA employees on the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. She graduated from IU in December with a degree in public affairs.

"This program is nice, because it does help prepare you for what the real world is like," Walton said. "It will help me, because it gives hands-on experience and brings along other opportunities."

Jonathan Kohl, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., interned in the U.S. Department of Navy Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Readiness Division. Among the things he did was work with Navy operations personnel to ensure that environmental regulations were being met. One of his most valued experiences was reporting for and writing an article about the Navy's use of dolphins to detect enemy mines for the Navy's magazine, Currents.

"Copies of that magazine go to every one of the 300 ships in the fleet and go throughout the Navy to all of their bases around the world," Kohl said. "I was able to write a pretty lengthy article, and it's going to be under my name" in the winter issue.

He also was able to accompany several judge advocate generals -- like the "JAGs" on television -- to hear cases presented to the House Resource Committee and watch them discuss with congressmen legislation such as the Marine Mammal Protection Bill.

"Whenever you're an intern in Washington, I think it's really beneficial to be able to go up to Capitol Hill and see a bill being discussed by congressmen," said Kohl, a major in environmental management.

A lifelong resident of Loogootee, Ind., Walton said the program changed her outlook on life and her career aspirations. "I actually was scared to go a little bit at first, because it's such a big city, and I'm not used to that," she said. "I would say that it was a life-changing experience for me, and I would probably say that about a lot of other people in the program. The opportunities are there and are unlimited."

Beyzerov added, "I am so thankful for the leadership program. It made me grow up really fast. I've gained so much experience in such a short time. I find it much easier to work under pressure now. This has been probably the best experience of my life, and I'm loving what I'm doing."

She received her degree in management of human resources at the December commencement and will remain with the State Department as a permanent employee, working with student programs. Her parents now reside in Zionsville, Ind.

While in Washington, the SPEA interns had ample opportunities for personal growth. They went to museums and attended diplomatic events -- including, for some, a reception at the European Union consulate -- and many cultural activities. Some were able to watch former IU basketball star Jared Jeffries play with his new team, the Washington Wizards. One student went sky diving with the Army's Golden Knights parachute team.

Powell is not surprised by the success of his students. He also sees the benefits they offer to the government agencies. "You get young folks who want to change the world, and I always tried to let them make as much change as I could without them messing up the whole organization," he said of his past experience. "Young people energize an organization."

More information about SPEA's Washington Leadership Program is available online at or by calling 812-855-9639.