USF St. Pete Student Wraps Up White House Internship
College internships can be a toss of the dice as to what a job entails. Sometimes it’s something cool, like a medical student assisting on a surgery; sometimes it’s a drudgery, like a business student photocopying documents all day.
Tyler Lewis’ internship was definitely in the first category – as he worked earlier this year at the White House.
"You kind of have to pinch yourself every day you’re there and remember where you’re at," Lewis said.
When the 20 year old political science major from Largo applied for the position, he didn’t think he would get it.
"It’s a very prestigious internship and the applicants are coming from all over the country from prestigious Ivy League schools and all these people with tons of experience and I never really thought I had a big chance at it," the Eagle Scout and active member of the Pinellas County Democratic Party said.
But thanks to a combination of good grades, his record of service and political interest (he's worked on a pair of political campaigns), and the recommendation of USF St. Pete Associate Professor of Political Science Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, Lewis was one of about 140 students selected.
He ended up being the sole intern assigned to work in the local arm of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, where he was one of just four staffers working with hundreds of mayors and other local elected officials from across the U.S.
"One day you’re dealing with a problem in Portland or a city up north and then another day you’re having somebody come in from Texas or these different areas across the country and everybody has a different thing they want solved by the White House," Lewis said.
His duties varied.
"Some days, it was really simple work, like preparing briefing memos," he said. "And other days it was escorting mayors into the White House for meetings and it was a very unique experience in the fact that nothing that I did was the same for every day; it was a different experience every day."
Lewis worked in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building, but he paid multiple visits across the street to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
"You have to savor that moment, you’re there at the White House, you only get to walk up the Navy steps so many times or walk into the West Wing so many times," Lewis said, adding, "It’s one of those things where sometimes you just have to look up and remember where you’re at."
Lewis said his most exciting moment came early in his internship. The U.S. Conference of Mayors welcomed about 300 mayors to the White House for a day full of briefings and meetings with federal officials in January – and the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs ran the show.
"Three weeks in and not knowing what I was doing and I was able to take part in this event, not only plan and help execute this entire event, but I actually got to go into the East Room and watch the President give his remarks," Lewis said.
The extent of his contact with President Obama was limited to that briefing, observing him leave the White House on the Marine One helicopter, and attending a speech the President gave the interns. However, Lewis did have a chance to meet one of his political heroes - senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrettt.
"She is an absolutely amazing woman and absolutely amazing leader and she is someone who exemplifies what the White House is, caring and smart, and she was great and she had a lot of great words of wisdom and great words of advice," Lewis said.
But it wasn’t all hard work. Lewis had the chance to bowl on the historic Truman Bowling Alley, which used to be in the White House and is now in the basement of the Eisenhower Building.
"It’s amazing that something like that is still there and to take part in that," Lewis said. "All the Presidents have bowled there and their staffs have bowled there, and to bowl there was kind of crazy coming from like a bowling alley in Largo, Florida, to bowling in the White House is kind of, sums up the journey for me."
As a native Floridian, Lewis admits he wasn’t prepared for dealing with a Washington winter.
"It was the third day I was there, I got up for work and it was, like, three inches of snow on the ground. I was like ‘Oh man, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do!’ I had no boots, no anything, I’m just putting on a pair of gym shoes and trudging through the snow, rolling up my dress pants – the winter was rough," he said.
But things improved when spring arrived - just before he left D.C. He had get a chance to enjoy one particular nice day – working at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll in April.
"To be on the other side of the glass and looking out from the other side, it’s amazing to see how interested people are with the White House still, as a building and as an organization," Lewis said. "It’s something that not a lot of people will ever have a chance to experience and being able to work the Easter Egg Roll was an event that made me realize how lucky I was to be at the White House."
Lewis worked last fall on Scourfield McLauchlan's unsuccessful bid last fall for a seat in the Florida Senate. The associate professor had worked in the White House during the Clinton Administration.
"My advice for all of my students, but in particular at the White House because it’s such an intense experience, but I firmly believe that you need to bloom where you’re planted, you need to work extra hard with whatever assignment you’re given," Scourfield McLauchlan said.
"You need to give it 110 percent, and if it’s standing at the photocopier, those better be the best, clearest, sharpest photocopies because whatever needs to get done for the mission to be accomplished is what you need to do."
"I knew Tyler had that kind of spirit where he was going to work hard and do what was asked of him and be enthusiastic," she added.
"Tyler has had a wonderful opportunity when he was in DC, work that will be on his resume, but also now he’s made many contacts and as a Political Science major someone who plans to work in government, now he has all kinds of contacts and references and as much as you might think it’s a big world, it’s actually a pretty small circle and everyone seems to know everyone."
"So he now has connections and I think he’ll be very positioned once he graduates USF St Petersburg and is ready to get a job, whether he plans to go back to DC or stay involved in Florida politics, he will have many doors open to him now," she said.
Lewis is scheduled to graduate next year. He plans to get a master’s degree in Public Policy and then pursue a career in the public sector, and maybe even run for office.
"I think that that’s the only way we can get positive change is when good people want to make that change," he said.
As for a possible return trip to the White House - this time as President?
"Idon’t know if necessarily anybody wants the job of President," Tyler said with a laugh. "But I definitely am not going to rule it out, so we’ll see how the cards fall."