Advocating for Education: My Internship in Washington, D.C.

This summer, Tiffany Carpenter (Alfie Scholar, 2017 Cohort) interned with The National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP), a national non-profit, non-partisan organization working to increase access to higher education for economically disadvantaged students.

As the Communications and Advocacy Intern, Tiffany helped plan the annual conference and Youth Leadership Summit and congressional advocacy campaigns. NCCEP works with Congress, the White House, and the U.S. Department of Education to advance public policy for a community of students and educators.

Below is her story….

By Tiffany Carpenter

It’s 8 a.m. and two hundred students—ranging from the 9th grade to their first year in college and coming from diverse backgrounds—are rehearsing enthusiastically. Some speak original poetry with shining eyes; others break into creative dance or offer calming hugs. In minutes, these talented and underserved youths from across the nation will present powerful narratives in front of almost 1,700 teachers, administrators, and representatives—including the Department of Education. Demonstrating the daily realities of growing up amidst financial hardship, bullying, and gun violence, these students will also share the excitement of participating with GEAR UP, a federal initiative that provides mentoring, college planning, and scholarships. As a Communications and Advocacy Intern, I had the opportunity to learn about educational access, public policy, and government relations while assisting the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) with organizing the 2018 annual conference. My summer working in Washington, D.C., was incredible, and the best moments were meeting the inspiring students that we serve and watching them advocate for their futures on stage.

As a rising senior and honors student at Seattle University who relies on scholarships and financial aid, I understand how deeply education can transform a person’s potential. When the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) generously offered me an internship, I was excited about their mission of expanding educational access. Working with a variety of partners, from Congress to local teachers, NCCEP facilitates the funding and successful implementation of GEAR UP nationwide in underserved school districts. The organization’s impact is remarkable, and I was graciously welcomed to their Washington D.C. office by ten staff and a fellow summer intern. Each colleague supported GEAR UP in different ways, by gathering statistical data on graduation outcomes, coordinating with school administrators, informing public policy, working with Congress to increase budget funding, and so much more.

My primary projects involved working closely with our other super-smart intern and skilled manager to produce all data analysis, digital designs, and event coordination for the Youth Leadership Summit portion of the conference. This year was NCCEP’s largest conference yet, with 200 students and 1,700 attendees during three-and-a-half days. With only two months to develop and finalize materials, I always found something interesting to create or complete; 5:30 p.m. always arrived quickly! Some of the moving pieces we encountered with event planning included collecting and confirming information from attendees, arranging for room and signage needs, coordinating meals for dietary restrictions, creating a streamlined registration process, and other tasks.

Because of new branding and programming, our manager would occasionally email an idea and thoughtfully ask if it was a project that interns would be interested in pursuing at a convenient time. Whether working independently or together with my fellow intern, we were usually able to complete our regular assignments and then figure out how to independently deliver the new project within a day or two. I felt lucky not only to have a significant role in the NCCEP office, but also to have the trust of our manager and colleagues. Even while preparing for their most important event of the year, everyone at NCCEP was kind and always available to assist with assignments. They also knew when to step back, allowing me to develop the ability to take initiative, learn, or get creative with proposing solutions. During the Youth Leadership Summit itself onsite at the Washington Hilton, I helped register students and coordinate their daily training sessions, which sometimes stretched from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. as they learned about public speaking, defining and demonstrating their values, breaking through fears and barriers, sharing their stories, and other leadership skills.

Looking back, I’m so grateful for everything I learned and experienced through my first internship with the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships. Living in Washington, D.C., I walked right past the White House on the way to work, explored museums filled with national heritage, and appreciated the sunset on the Potomac River. During my internship, assisting with event planning for the conference helped me grow professionally and gain new perspectives. I saw directly how advocacy works between multiple agencies; found the initiative to bring a project from conception to completion, facilitated all stages of the conference from registration to closure, and provided insight on process improvement so that NCCEP’s next conference runs even more smoothly. It was a joy to learn and contribute alongside my fellow intern and bright, dedicated professionals in a small office setting. Most of all, it was amazing to see our work efforts culminate in a national conference bringing together ideas, resources, and every member of our community—from Congress and the Department of Education to the inspiring students themselves. They face adversity with bravery, curiosity, and enthusiasm for the future. I can’t wait to see these young leaders rise, and I hope their next dream destination—a college classroom—comes true. In the meantime, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity of contributing at NCCEP to educational advocacy.