by Chloe Field

College of Charleston students are joining their peers throughout South Carolina and taking advantage of a different kind of immersion experience in our nation’s capitol.

The South Carolina Washington Semester Internship Program (WSP) offers college students hands-on experience with the political process as they spend a semester living and working in Washington D.C. Housed in the South Carolina Honors College at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, the program is offered to students at more than a dozen institutions across the Palmetto State.

Jill Conway, assistant director for student services at the College of Charleston’s Honors College, says CofC students have been participating in the program since 1995.

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“Almost everyone describes the semester as life-changing,” she says.

Most student immersion experiences are overseas, so Washington makes for a somewhat unlikely backdrop. But program alums have found no shortage of excitement and opportunity in the nation’s capital city.

Renn Osborne ‘16 was a member of the program’s spring 2015 class, trading in the cobblestone sidewalks of Charleston to pound the Capitol Hill pavement.

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Osborne learned of the program during his first campus visit and felt that the unique opportunity aligned perfectly with his academic interests.

Pursuing a double major in English and political science, Osborne’s ultimate goal of breaking into political speechwriting drove his internship search. He ultimately landed a spot in the press office of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Osborne’s day-to-day duties granted him an up-close look at the intricacies and challenges of political communications and a peek at a full-time work schedule.

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“I assisted, in various ways, in shaping public image of the committee and the chairman,” he says.

Osborne found the personal connections afforded by living and working in D.C. to be of equal value.

“Bumping shoulders with other professionals in the career you’re interested in is an advantage that puts WSP well ahead of the curve,” Osborne says. “The program was everything I had hoped for and really gave me a leg up on my professional career.”

Following his graduation from the Honors College, Osborne returned to Capitol Hill as a deputy press secretary for the Homeland Security Committee.

An interest in politics underlies many students’ involvement in the program, but the range of Washington’s internship opportunities expands well beyond those found on Capitol Hill. Students are encouraged to pioneer new internship experiences and seize the city’s unique opportunities, whether they’re in the halls of government, the Smithsonian Institute or a CNN studio.

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One such opportunity presented itself for College of Charleston student Katie Joiner, a fall 2016 WSP alum, who earned a coveted spot as an intern at the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.

“For some people, it was a jumping off point,” she says. “For me, it was the culmination of all that I’ve been working for over the past few years.”

Joiner worked with liaisons for veterans and young voters. She also drafted memorandums for senior staff members and organized roundtables and workshops for her department.

Despite her laundry list of previous experience, including internships with American Red Cross and South Carolina Land Use Law, it wasn’t until her semester in D.C. that Joiner truly felt she could be an agent for change.

“I wasn’t on the periphery – I was at the epicenter of American activism,” she says. “It was the exact kind of hands-on, high impact work I craved.”

In addition to completing their internships, students participating in the WSP also engage in a unique curriculum and earn academic credits toward their degrees.

“The program is well-rounded with current events and theatre classes,” Conway says. “It is the perfect place to study away from Charleston.”

Joiner says she encourages any students interested in the program to apply and not to shy away from intimidating opportunities, a lesson she learned first-hand this past semester.

“Many, many students don’t apply to competitive programs and internships because they don’t think they will get it,” she says. “What they don’t realize is that we all have something unique to contribute to the conversation.”

Applications for the fall 2017 semester are due Feb. 17, 2017. Additional information about the program and how to apply is available the University of South Carolina Honors College’s website.