Twelve Virginia Tech undergraduates recently finished internships on Capitol Hill, completing the sixth year of Virginia Tech’s Hokies on the Hill program. 

The internship program was designed to give students in all disciplines real world experience in how the U.S. government works and, maybe even more importantly, “our Hokies on the Hill have learned how rewarding a career in public service can be,” said Chris Yianilos, executive director of Government Relations at Virginia Tech.

Yianilos initiated Hokies on the Hill in the spring semester of 2010 with strong support from then Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger. 

President Timothy D. Sands is also a strong supporter of the program and wants to increase opportunities for undergraduate students to engage in similar types of hands-on work experience in the National Capital Region, Yianilos said.

Approximately a dozen students participate in Hokies on the Hill each year and a significant number have pursued public service options after graduation.

One of these alumni is Brittany Brown, from Richmond, Virginia, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international studies: world politics and policy and a minor in Spanish from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences in 2010. She was a Hokie on the Hill during her senior year and interned for U.S. Senator Jim Webb. After graduation, Brown held a number of other positions in Webb’s office and later, in the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. 

“I learned so much during my internship,” said Brown. “I learned how to be a professional, how  to work with many different personalities, and what direction I wanted to move in professionally. My love for public service grew through this experience.”

Currently, Brown is a WorldTeach volunteer in Hunan, China. Every week for the past nine months she has taught oral English to about 1,000 high school students in rural China.

“It’s been a rewarding year learning about a new culture and teaching students who want to learn English to further their education and increase their opportunities in the future,” said Brown. The school year in China ends in June and she hopes to teach in either Spain or Thailand next year.

For the past two years,Colin MacDermott, from Virginia Beach, Virginia, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences in 2012, has been a member of the professional staff for the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Currently, he serves as a resource for the Full Committee on Appropriations.

“I made the decision to work in public service during my junior year at Virginia Tech,” said MacDermott, who also worked in Webb’s office. “I knew that it would be an incredible opportunity to give back to my community in a meaningful and direct way. Hokies on the Hill reinforced this and directed my career toward Capitol Hill.”

Joshua Deutschmann, from Columbia, Maryland, graduated with bachelor's degrees in economics and mathematics from the College of Science in 2012 and interned for the Clark Group LLC – now Vela Environmental -- a firm specializing in public and private sustainability, climate solutions, and renewable energy -- while in Hokies on the Hill in 2010.

He received a master's degree in economics from Boston University in September 2013.

“Hokies on the Hill was a great program for me. My experience helped push me towards a career path in research and analysis, to understand human behavior and ultimately inform better policy decisions by governments and NGOs,” said Deutschmann, now a project associate for Innovations for Poverty Action in Dakar, Senegal.

“I help manage surveys focused on household sanitation, as well as support the scale up of an experimental call center for sanitation services,” Deutschmann said.

In addition to the internship experience, he noted another valuable aspect of the Hokies on the Hill program. ”Chris put together a fantastic set of meetings with guest speakers, many of which resulted in great discussions,” he said. Former U.S. Senator John Warner, the second longest serving senator in the history of Virginia, and Congressman Tom Davis, who served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years, were among the guest speakers when Deutschmann was in the program.

Students enrolled in Hokies on the Hill receive 12 credit hours for the program by working a full day Monday through Thursday and attending a Friday seminar which, in addition to guest speakers, includes visits and tours with government officials and seminars and discussions with Yianilos on topics like the budget deficit, health care reform, the interaction between Congress and the media, ethics and integrity in government service, and legislative strategy. During seminars, the students have the opportunity to talk about their individual experiences.

“The university is committed to this program which further fosters its motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) in students as they are forming their career aspirations and goals,” Yianilos said. 

Hokies on the Hill will continue spring semester 2016. Slots are limited and the application process will begin in the fall. To learn more about the program, contact Chris Yianilos.