Chene Karega, a 2015 University of Michigan graduate, had the opportunity to intern in the Office of Congresswoman Brenda L. Lawrence in Washington, DC as a Running Start /Walmart Star Fellow. The Running Start/Walmart Star Fellowship is the only fellowship on Capitol Hill for college aged women. Each semester, the fellowship provides seven college women summer internships with Congresswomen so they can learn from successful women firsthand. Chene Karega gives her insights on the fellowship experience. The deadline to apply is March 15!
By Guest Author Chene Karega
The Running Start/Walmart Star Fellowship brings together seven women from diverse backgrounds to train them in political leadership and introduce them to national politics. This fellowship is important because it provides young women the support to take an unpaid internship in Washington, D.C. As a Star Fellow, I had the opportunity to intern for a female Member of Congress Monday through Thursdays, attend political and career trainings Fridays, and meet with our assigned mentors frequently. I also had the benefit of receiving a $2,000 stipend and living with the other six Star Fellows in a house on Capitol Hill for free.
The core of the fellowship is our placement in the offices of female Representatives or Senators. For my congressional internship requirement I interned in the Office of Congresswoman Brenda L. Lawrence of Southfield, Michigan. Interning for a female Member of Congress from my hometown allowed me to connect with a role model who shared the same struggles and goals as me. Additionally, being in an office with an equal male to female distribution allowed me to view first hand how successful women navigate their political careers. Working for Congresswoman Lawrence and her staff was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Also, being an intern in an office full of professionals allowed me to understand the importance of every role in a congressional office, including that of an intern. Of course my co-intern, Robyn, and I bonded over some not-so-glamorous tasks, such as making coffee, running errands around the Capitol building, and answering phone calls. But, we needed the time to become accustomed to the fast paced environment of Capitol Hill. In fact, we spent the greater part of our first few weeks on the job huddled in corners trying to decrypt half of the tasks we were assigned. After we completed those tasks and demonstrated our commitment to supporting the goals of our Congresswoman we were able to tackle some substantial and rewarding projects. Over the course of my internship, I acquired knowledge about how the legislative process really works and gained skills that I had not been able to in my three previous political internships.
My real world experience of interning on the Hill was augmented by the Friday seminars at the Running Start offices. These captivating seminars provided a deeper knowledge of politics from top people, predominately women, in the field, including former members of congress, chiefs of staff, and political experts. However, for me the most beneficial part of Friday seminars were the weekly debriefs. During our debriefs, the Star Fellows would each take turns talking about our weeks and our program supervisor, Melissa, would give us feedback. Although I did not fully appreciate their significance at the time, I now realize by having us reflect on our week Melissa was able to help us address anything that made us uncomfortable or uneasy. It was nice to hear about the accomplishments everyone had made at work, but it was also important to help each other work through our problems. Those debriefs taught me the importance of reflecting on my experiences frequently in order to address problems I may not have noticed or even to track my personal and professional growth. There is no doubt in my mind that debriefing improved my fellowship experience by making me a more proactive intern and job seeker.
Living in a house with women with different personalities and backgrounds was sometimes challenging. Still, it was one of the highlights of the fellowship. In just three and a half months most of us created bonds that crossed cultural, economic, and political lines. Since the fellowship has ended there is not a day that goes by that I do not talk to at least one of my former roommates. It is safe to say the most surprising part of my experience was the commonalities that I shared with my Republican roommates. One of my dearest friends from the fellowship is a white Republican from rural California. As a black Democrat from Metro-Detroit, as soon as she told me she grew up on a farm, I lost all hopes of a friendship for us. In fact, we both admitted to each other that when we first met (or stalked each other on Facebook) we thought we would not like each other. I laugh even thinking about this now that we have grown so close. This woman is now one of my best friends. We even moved into the same apartment building after the fellowship ended. Our relationship has been able to grow past genuinely enjoying each other’s company to being able to talk about our political differences with out getting offended. Even when we do not agree our conversations sheds light on the way the “other side” thinks about issues. I have discovered that in our youth, especially our younger women there is hope for compromise on major issues and social change. I am so excited to see former and future Star Fellows take on leadership roles as their careers progress.
Because of the Star Fellowship, I have amazing memories, a supportive and diverse network of women working in D.C. and across the nation, and a greater knowledge of politics. I feel so privileged knowing that my fellowship experience has allowed me to build relationships with leaders willing to advocate for me as I grow in my career. The Running Start Star Fellowship is one of the best programs out there for women wanting to get involved in politics.
Chene Karega is from Southfield, Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelors degree in Social Theory and Practice and a minor in Community Action and Social Change. In the summer of 2014, she interned for Brenda Lawrence for Congress, which sparked her interest in working on political campaigns. Following the Star Fellowship, Chene began working at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
© Victoria Johnson 2016, all rights reserved.