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The path to D.C. internships is well traveled for Utah students

Published: Saturday, March 22 2014 7:30 p.m. MDT

"I've had an opportunity to get a glimpse of what I'd like to do in the future," said Petersen, who previously had been pursuing a job teaching history. "I'm not settled yet, but there are glimpses."

Despite his plans to change careers, Petersen remains a history buff, and his favorite part of his internship with Sen. Orrin Hatch is giving tours of the U.S. Capitol to visiting Utahns.

"Just to see their faces as they see the Rotunda, different places where important historical events have taken place, has been something eye-opening," Petersen said. "People have asked my why I'm a history major. They say, 'It's so boring.' But as we go through the Capitol building … to see their eyes open, even in youth, has been a fun opportunity."

In addition to helping with tours, U. student Landon Gardiner is tasked with helping research and answer healthcare questions from Hatch's constituents. He calls this internship, his third, a powerful learning experience.

"It's been the high point of my college career," said Gardiner, a political science and international studies major from Iowa. "Learning more not only about the Capitol, but of the processes that go on inside the Capitol and everything that happens here on Capitol Hill."

Upstairs from Hatch's office, Jorge Espinoza works in Sen. Mike Lee's office. After pursuing law and constitutional studies at USU, Espinoza especially enjoys opportunities to research legislation or attend hearings on the Hill.

"It's so cool knowing that you are participating in things that could affect millions of people, and you are contributing to the great experiment of the American dream," said Espinoza, grinning widely as he sat in Lee's personal office. "It's kind of like a dream come true."

Espinoza is especially pleased to intern with Lee, a constitutional mentor who takes time getting to know the students who work with him. He noted that his picture will soon be featured on a wall near Lee's office that has been dedicated to photos of the senator with his interns.

With one month left in his internship, Petersen is preparing a flood of job applications for positions back home as well as in D.C., which he hopes to bolster with a letter of recommendation from Hatch's office.

"This has been a great, hands-on experience where I've been able to be a team player in what goes on here on the Hill," Petersen said. "Even if it doesn't lead to a job opportunity out here in D.C., it's been an experience I'll never forget, being out here and being a part of something bigger than I may have been able to be part of in Logan, Utah."

The Utah connection

Geisler's previous apprehension at living in D.C. is nearly forgotten. She now goes out of her way to meet new people, chatting with strangers on the metro or reaching out to the people she is introduced to through work.

Much of that confidence has come through the built-in support network she found living in USU's intern housing, which accepts about 20 students from several Utah schools, and has helped her settle into living in a new place.

Like many of the people she works with, the Idaho native has felt the pull of life in the beltway. Geisler is currently testing the waters in the job market, with a few applications pending both back at home and in D.C.

"I feel like a lot of the people who come out here stay out here," she said. "A lot of the people in my office are from Utah, and they just fell in love with it here and ended up staying."

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