The stereotypical internship involves a lot of getting coffee for people and menial labor that everyone else is too important to do. As my summer at OCTAE draws to a close, I’m happy to say that it was actually my coworkers who were kind enough to ask me to coffee, and even while I was collating 150 event packets for the White House CTE Convening, my supervisor and the head of my division were both there stacking papers with me.
This summer, I’ve had the privilege not only of collating papers at the White House, but also of seeing the First Lady, attending a meeting at a Senate office building, witnessing the behind-the-scenes action of so much of OCTAE’s work, and meeting dozens of intelligent and incredibly impressive Career and Technical Education (CTE) students.
My coworkers—from other members of my branch and my cubicle neighbors, to Acting Assistant Secretary Johan Uvin himself—have been so wonderful, always taking time to introduce themselves and ask if I’ve been enjoying my time at OCTAE.
At the beginning of the summer, I expected to be allowed to sit in on meetings and conference calls, but I didn’t expect to be asked my opinion afterwards. I expected to write blog posts, but I didn’t expect to edit speeches given in front of hundreds of people, or to be asked for feedback on important documents before they were released.
As I filled out the introductory paperwork back in April, I found myself thinking “Why me? Why not any other undergrad with good grades and half a degree?”. I’ve learned a lot from this experience about CTE, office life, and the everyday workings of the federal government, but I’ve also learned something about myself: that even at 19 years old, my experience with writing and editing is still valuable to others, and that I do have a unique skill set with which to contribute to the world around me.
In an internship filled with coffee runs and generic office tasks, I never would have discovered that. However, the College and Career Transitions branch and the Division of Academic and Technical Education had faith in me, and treated me like an employee—a very young, very inexperienced employee—but an employee nonetheless who was hired for a reason, just like anyone else.
Olivia Wood is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro majoring in English and cultural anthropology. This summer, she interned with OCTAE’S College and Career Transitions branch. Prospective interns apply during the semester preceding their internship term and are encouraged to select three offices within the Department in which they would prefer to work. The Department of Education accepts applications from all students 16 and older enrolled in classes at least half-time at an accredited educational institution. For more information about internships at the Department of Education, please click here.