By Tyler Ellyson
KEARNEY – Washington, DC, is the mecca of American politics.
It is the center of the federal government, a historic city where major decisions are made that impact the country and the world.
For political science students, there is no better place to prepare for a future career.
“Often, DC internships are the first step toward a job for the federal government,” said Tanner Butler, a senior at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Butler and two other UNK political science majors spent part of their summer in the nation’s capital, where they gained valuable experience working as interns for members of Congress and a government relations firm.
A native of Broken Bow, Butler completed a six-week internship in the office of U.S. Representative Adrian Smith. He served as a contact for constituents – answering phone calls and questions and relaying messages to the congressman. Butler has also led public tours of Capitol Hill and conducted research, focusing specifically on issues related to the House Ways and Means Committee. Smith is currently in the running for chair of this committee.
Additionally, Butler was able to attend committee hearings, attend a series of professional conferences, and hang out with Smith during the Congressional baseball game.
“In political science, we learn all the time about what’s going on in Congress and in DC,” Butler said. “It’s amazing to be there, because you get a much deeper understanding.”
Butler is a minor in public law and is part of the Kearney Law Opportunities Program (KLOP), a partnership between UNK and the University of Nebraska School of Law that recruits and trains students to become lawyers in areas rural. Participants receive a full scholarship to attend UNK and guaranteed admission to Lincoln Law School if all requirements are met.
Previously, Butler interned at the Smith District Office in Nebraska and the Buffalo County District Attorney’s Office.
“I would 100% recommend going to DC,” he said.
UNK junior Braden Peterworth of Sutton had a similar summer experience. He interned in the office of U.S. Senator Deb Fischer, fulfilling a dream of visiting Washington and participating in the federal government.
“Before I went to law school, I knew I wanted to find a way to get out in DC and experience the government there, the culture there, and the tourism there,” he said. declared. “The fact that Senator Fischer and her office gave me this opportunity to be there for 10 weeks really made it all clear to me.”
A minor in public law and a member of the KLOP program, Peterworth was in DC from late May to late July. Like Butler, he has assisted with constituent services, led Capitol tours, researched specific policy areas and observed committee hearings.
“It was really great to be hands-on and to really help his staff with executing the legislation for Nebraskas,” Peterworth said. “We’re very lucky to have great professors in our political science department, so I was well prepared. I also think it’s going to be really helpful to bring those experiences back into my classes and my research.
Peterworth studies presidents and how they approach human rights issues, so discussions of the ongoing war in Ukraine were of particular interest to him.
He had a few one-on-one interactions with Fischer and met “a lot of really good Nebraskans” while touring.
“In terms of internships political science students should seek out, this should be at the top of the list,” he said. “It was extremely valuable.”
As a bonus, Peterworth participated in the Washington DC Professional Enrichment Academy – a free, value-added program for University of Nebraska students interning in the city. Through the program, students meet once a week to connect with prominent alumni, expand their professional networks, discuss current topics, and learn more about potential careers.
UNK senior Earlen Gutierrez of Lexington has been on the program for the past two summers.
Last year, she interned with TurnUp, a nonprofit and mobile app that promotes youth advocacy and civic engagement. She met two Cassidy and Associates vice presidents through the Professional Enrichment Academy, which led to this year’s internship with the government relations firm.
As a legislative research intern, Gutierrez attended congressional hearings and wrote summaries for clients. She also researched specific legislation and compiled news stories.
Gutierrez is most proud of her research for the Migrant Clinicians Network, a nonprofit organization that works with clinicians around the world to improve access and quality of health care for migrants.
“UNK’s political science department really prepares us for this kind of work and it gave us great research skills, which are needed,” said Gutierrez, who is minoring in public law and ethnic studies. .
At UNK, his research focuses on areas such as environmental policy and environmental justice. She wants to promote changes that can improve everyone’s life.
“That’s what we’re looking for here. What is the next step ? How are we better?”
Gutierrez was in DC from early June to mid-August. Outside of her internship, she contacted Nebraska State Senator Adam Morfeld of Lincoln via LinkedIn and met him for coffee near the White House. She also spoke with Deputy Chief of Staff to US Senator John Boozman of Arkansas.
“This experience has really helped me step out of my comfort zone, not just personally but professionally,” she said. “It’s been insightful to hear how people got here and what decisions they made to get here.”
Like Butler and Peterworth, Gutierrez plans to attend law school after graduating from UNK.
“I know for sure that I want to go back to DC because I really like it there and that’s where I feel like I can have the most impact,” she said. “I want everything I do to end up helping someone somewhere.”