Gradual change can be hard to recognize.
There’s the bit about putting a frog into a pot of water and slowly turning up the heat before it notices, the innovation in technology that makes mobile phones and laptops smaller and smaller with time, and the growth of ombre hairstyles. Much like slowly changing seasons and quietly rising temperature averages, the process of internal change I’ve experienced as part of the Washington, D.C. Summer Study Program is one of steady growth and gradual skill-building, often going unnoticed. As I reflect back on the ten weeks I’ve spent in the heart of the nation’s capitol, I realize the chasm I’ve crossed to get to the level of understanding research, development as a student and “political scientist,” and personal growth that I’ve seen in myself.
As an intern, the change I’ve realized in the preliminary beginnings of my professional life has immensely amplified my research skills. Before engrossing myself in the fast-paced information stream in D.C., I touted my research skills, but soon realized that research is all about getting information that is sometimes difficult to obtain. At what first could have been a menial task of compiling spreadsheets about costs for different federal programs and collecting news clips, I discovered the importance of the work I was doing in relation to the final reports we’d publish. By the end of 10 weeks, I found my efforts more meaningful and appreciated the tasks I’d been asked to take on. The trust my supervisors placed in me enhanced my understanding the relevance of my work, and my importance to the contributions the organization is making. The importance of writing as a part of professional development has been ingrained into my head, with report after report published with my assistance.
The slow changes and realizations I’ve had as a student go beyond the reinforced benefits of simply learning outside the classroom. As I have had to learn climate history on the fly, been pushed to comprehend the elements of President Obama’s newly released Climate Action Plan, and navigated the hierarchy of a think tank, I’ve increasingly been taking learning into my own hands. From the seminars to other informational interviews I’ve taken the opportunity to be part of, I’ve gathered a perception of how much I don’t know. I’ve also been fortunate to learn from experts at work and elsewhere, getting a brief “Electric Utilities 101” lesson and listening to senior fellows refer to terms I’ve only read about in a political science textbook.
From the perspective of a political scientist (if I can count myself worthy of such a title), I’ve never considered myself any sort of an expert, and still wouldn’t. Nonetheless, practicing elements of political science first-hand by doing research and writing at a think tank that is influencing public policy, all the while living down the street from where Supreme Court cases have been decided and as a constituent trying to lobby my members of Congress, I’ve witnessed firsthand the theories I’d only previously read about, been stuck by the bureaucratic “red tape” that I didn’t understand, and seen phenomena like filibusters first understood from a distance. Having now observed gridlock in a committee hearing, then having navigated red tape to compile research information, I have taken through a lens all of the summer course readings and past class lectures that described these exact elements of political science. Reflecting on my previous understanding to my real-world one and filling in the gaps has enabled me to feel much more knowledgeable about the intersection of politics and the science of it all.
Of course, all of this great, practical education would be all for naught if it didn’t stick with me as I leave D.C. for a final year at CSB/SJU. The gradual developments I’ve experienced as part of our living community have seen all of us become accustomed to listening well to different viewpoints, establishing dialogue on well-founded information, fostering a sense of independence, while highlighting the immense importance of developing together. The constant reflection we’ve engaged in as we look back at our internships, our relationships, our late night snaking in the kitchen, and our D.C. level experiences has united us not only as a network, but as humans looking to make the world a better place (it literally cannot get more cheesy). I slowly have learned to take advantage of open doors, and started saying yes to happy hours, forums, debates, and policy lunches, when I once would have said no. I’ve depended on myself to get home on the Metro without a smartphone. I have been forced to be intentional about who I communicate with and when, and truly been able to rely on myself as my own resource. I’ve grown to appreciate political celebrities for their policies and not their position. Most importantly, I’ve learned that this is a great place to make a change. It just takes a while.