Living in D.C. is expensive, and almost all Capitol Hill internships are unpaid. So congressional internships have traditionally been reserved for the privileged and well-connected. But organizations like College to Congress are changing that by providing low-income students with housing, transportation, networking opportunities, and even stipends for a professional wardrobe. In this series, we profile young women seeking careers in politics who may not have parents footing their bills, but do have plenty of drive to succeed on the Hill.
Name: Imani Fields
This summer, she interned in the office of: Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican
Tell us a little bit about your background.
"I'm from Columbus, OH. I grew up in a single-parent household with my mom and younger siblings. I was able to graduate high school at 16, but I figured I wasn't ready for college yet. I took a year off and worked at a fast-food restaurant, where I was able to move up quickly to become a shift supervisor.
"Then I was able to attend Miami University. I'm majoring in political science and East Asian languages. I was looking for a summer internship last fall. I had an internship last summer and it was unpaid, and I knew this one had to be paid. Then I found out about College to Congress, and it was perfect timing — I only had two days left until the deadline to apply."
Why did you choose to intern for Sen. Rob Portman?
"So I didn't grow up in a politically involved household. But I joined the College Republicans on campus, and they gave us the options to help with different campaigns. I have followed Sen. Portman since I became interested in politics in 2016. He was the first politician I ever campaigned for, and it was an honor to receive an offer to work in his office this summer. I think he is one of the best legislators of our time."
As a woman of color, do you ever get criticism for being a Republican?
"I'm a Republican because it's all about providing opportunities, providing people with jobs, and preparing them for the workforce. As for criticism, I think it depends on the people around you. As long as you come from an informed position, you're okay. I haven't had a bad experience in regards to my opinions and beliefs. When I talk about politics with my friends, when people say, 'You're wrong,' I kind of just end the conversation. I prefer when people speak about how they feel, when they make statements rather than leading questions. Speaking broadly, if there's something I could change about both parties, I would say: Bring numbers to the discussion."
"It's very fast-paced, which is very different from Ohio. I think in my 20s, this is the perfect place for me, just going nonstop. Through the program, I get to meet Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, and every night we talk about what's going on in the news. It's made me meet people from different parties and have conversations. I've met a lot of people this year from different cultures and environments. Many of them are people I'll know for a lifetime. Meeting people from different walks of life, I've learned more about who I am as an individual. Although I don't think I've met anyone who's actually from D.C. except maybe Uber drivers."
What's the hardest thing about living in D.C. as a lower-income student?
"The program was able to cut all those worries out. I don't have to worry about working a different job. I was very fortunate to find the program. I definitely wouldn't have been able to do this without it."
What are your plans for the future?
"I've really enjoyed my internship in Sen. Portman's office. I do want to be back in D.C., preferably working on education — either on the Hill, or in a lobbying firm or a think tank. Whatever happens, all I know is, I will be in D.C."
This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.