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Summer D.C. interns bring new perspectives back to campus

DC interns posed

The summer 2013 interns from Illinois State.

Anni Krummel’s summer break wasn’t a break at all.

The East Peoria teacher and doctoral student at Illinois State traveled to Washington, D.C., for an internship with the U.S. Department of Education’s new Office of Early Learning, putting her right in the middle of arguably the Obama administration’s top education initiative—high-quality preschool for all.

Krummel spent the summer reading thick drafts of education legislation, interviewing big names in the early learning profession for a new online newsletter, and helping respond to letters from the public. It’s a far cry from her day job, but after seven years in the classroom she wanted to explore what happens higher up the food chain—in the halls of Congress where laws like No Child Left Behind are crafted.

Anni Krummel outside the U.S. Supreme Court

Anni Krummel outside the U.S. Supreme Court after this summer’s major gay rights decisions.

“I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to see the policy side, to understand where the policies come from that I’m implementing in my classroom as a teacher,” Krummel told STATEside.

Krummel was one of 10 students who lived and worked in Washington this summer as part of an internship program launched in 2011 by Illinois State’s Research and Sponsored Programs unit. RSP arranges housing for students, helps get them acquainted with D.C., and plans a few speakers and events throughout the summer for them. (The financial assistance all comes from the department and college from which the students have applied for the internship.)

The program can shape careers. Krummel learned she can make a greater impact on early-learning policy issues at the state rather than federal level, something the early childhood special education teacher plans to do after finishing her Ed.D. in teaching and learning. She’s in her last year of coursework, then starts her dissertation.

Christina Fallos with the Washington Monument behind her

Christina Fallos with the Washington Monument behind her.

Senior special education major Christina Fallos also worked on Capitol Hill, lobbying for the National Disability Rights Network. That required her to do deep research on legislation important to her constituents, including reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and movement on bills related to bullying and the issue of restraint and seclusion of students in schools.

Fallos is student-teaching this fall and plans to stay in the classroom after graduation. But having an intricate knowledge of such far-reaching legislation will help Fallos educate other teachers about it, she said, and it was “eye-opening” to learn how differently states handle special education issues.

Seeing the policymaking process up-close in Washington made her even more cynical about politics, she said. Gridlock in D.C. isn’t a one-party problem, she said, and it takes everyone to get something done.

“If one person or a few people aren’t willing to compromise, nothing will get done,” she said.

Not everyone was on the Hill. Senior Nichelle Harrison interned with Children’s National hospital’s orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine unit—the first athletic training major they’ve ever had intern.

Nichelle Harrison

Nichelle Harrison interned with Children’s National hospital’s orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine unit.

Harrison says the highlights of her 11-week internship were when she got to be in the operating room—sometimes even assisting—during surgeries. She said the experience has expanded her outlook beyond a career in athletic training. She’s still considering that, but now medical school is on the radar too.

“It’s more than I could’ve asked for in an internship,” said Harrison, who is now returning for a fifth year at Illinois State to pursue a biology major and play Redbird softball. “You don’t expect to learn these things in an internship. It was, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know I didn’t know that.’”

Living in Washington was its own perk, Harrison said. The 10 students lived in a three-story townhouse right behind the U.S. Supreme Court, and most didn’t know each other before the trip. They bonded quickly and together took advantage of close proximity to historic sites and museums, plus a great mix of culturally diverse neighborhoods and a growing population of young people living in D.C.

“Every day, I literally passed the Capitol building of the United States of America,” Harrison said. “That’s pretty cool.”

Ryan Denham can be reached at