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: Zoe Scott
School and year: Junior at the University of Montevallo in Alabama, double-majoring in political science and environmental studies
This summer, she interned in the office of: Sen. Doug Jones, the Democrat who famously beat far-right Republican Roy Moore in the December 2017 special election. Moore had been accused of sexual misconduct by several women.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
"I was born and raised in Huntsville, AL. I've always known I wanted to be involved in politics, and my parents always stressed to me the importance of serving my community. I got into environmental policy, specifically, because I grew up just a bike ride away from two state parks. It was such a blessing as a child, and as I got older I realized that that's not something everyone around me shares. So that sparked my passion to bring those opportunities to everyone. I'm a thorough believer in the idea that everyone deserves an equal opportunity to benefit from the environment."
Why did you choose to intern for Sen. Doug Jones?
"I have the utmost respect for him as a human being and a politician. I think one of the most important things that a lot of people take away from his life and background is his work on civil rights. His prosecution of Ku Klux Klan members in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which killed four African-American girls, was an action that resonated with me, and is representative of his character and the values he wants to fight for. So I was excited to be able to contribute to that."
What kinds of things did you do as an intern?
"A lot of what Congressional interns do is interact with constituents, so when people call the office we are often the voice they hear over the phone, and often the voice of the Senator himself, which is a powerful responsibility and one I take seriously. There's also a behind-the-scenes aspect, which involves doing different research projects and attending briefings and hearings."
How did you spend your time outside of your internship?
"The great thing College to Congress does is they set everyone up with an ally [from the other major political party], so I was really blessed to have an incredible mentor who not only spent time with me doing fun things like brunch, but set me up with useful connections in D.C.
"I also enjoyed exploring the city. I spent time hiking in Rock Creek Park, which was beautiful, and riding bikes around the monuments at night — they're absolutely gorgeous, especially with the lights reflecting on the water."
Did you feel any sort of culture shock, coming from a smaller city in Alabama?
"In the South, community is such an important thing. I grew up in a small town and I go to a small school, so I always had a network that I could turn to. In D.C., it was a little overwhelming at first. There were so many people, and I was concerned that I didn't necessarily belong there.
"Audrey Henson, the founder and CEO of College to Congress, became someone that I could talk to about my hopes and fears and aspirations. The first week or so that I had been in D.C., which is the farthest away from home I've ever lived, I felt a little out of my element because it was so different from what I've ever done before. I was talking to Audrey about what I expected from my summer and how I saw myself, and I mentioned that I didn't necessarily see myself as strong. And she said, 'Zoe, you are strong.' I couldn't be more thankful for the support she offered. She was always so incredibly sincere. This organization is truly a labor of love, and I respect that so much. At the end of the internship, and thanks to College to Congress, I do feel like I belong and I can't wait to go back."
What are your plans for the future?
"I would really love to go back next summer and broaden my horizons even more, with another internship on the Hill or at an environmental nonprofit organization. I can see myself moving there after graduation and being a legislative assistant in environmental policy."
This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.