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ES Student Profile
Catherine Benson '02
Center for Policy Alternatives
Center for Policy Alternatives
During the summer of 2001, I worked at the Center for Policy Alternatives in Washington, D.C. CPA is a non-government organization (NGO) devoted to educating and assisting state legislatures, grassroots leaders, and state policy organizations. There are many organizations that focus on national issues, but CPA is the only one that targets states. My internship was with the Eleanor Roosevelt Global Leadership Institute. The program is based on the idea that globalization plays an increasing role in the world and in national and state politics. The program selects approximately 12 state legislators to participate in both a domestic and an international retreat. This year's participants will travel to Chile; future sites include Africa and Asia. The goal is to give participants learning experiences that increase their understanding of global change. Then, legislatures apply these experiences in their own daily work. Focus issues include the environment, trade, women's issues, and education.
When I first got to CPA, I had very little idea about what my internship would entail and what would be required of me. I spent the first few days becoming familiar with the organization and their projects before I began my own research. This work gave me a greater understanding of the issues CPA focused on and which issues my own research should include. My main responsibility was to conduct research on countries in Asia for the 2002 program. I spent the summer preparing a chart comparing Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand. This chart included everything from basic statistics about the countries, such as their literacy rates and trading status with the US, to a more in depth look at the environmental and human rights problems faced by the three countries. I used a large number of web-based sources for my research, including Amnesty International, the CIA World Factbook, Transparency International, The World Bank, and World Resources Institute. Once I compiled a chart with basic research, I then spoke with local think tanks and embassies for additional information.
One of my favorite parts of the internship was the opportunity to visit different organizations in D.C. I was very excited the afternoon that I went to the Singapore embassy to speak with the Deputy Chancellor. My confidence was dramatically lowered once I passed through all of the security checks and reached the receptionist who asked for my business card. My heart raced as I tried to think of a way to immediately produce a non-existent business card from the depths of my bag. My boss also encouraged me to go to events with other interns in the office. One day I went with the women's department to a press conference on Capital Hill where Senators Clinton, Harkin and Kennedy discussed the Pay Check Fairness Act. I also attended lectures at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and some of CPA's "brown bags". These lunchtime meetings are a way for all of the interns at CPA to get to know each other in addition to learning more about the organization and D.C. Topics included an introduction to the work done by CPA, an introduction to D.C. (fun places to visit, places to find free food and parties for interns, etc.), and an introduction to the way state legislatures work.
I also did several other jobs in addition to my main research project. Although none focused on the environment, they taught me valuable skills that will be useful when I am looking for a real job. I compiled a list of all state election dates for 2002 in order to determine the best time to hold our conference. I researched a few women's issues, including individual development accounts and entrepreneurship programs. I also compiled weekly mailings on Chile for the current Eleanor fellows. I enjoyed this part because I could choose articles that I found interesting and then send them to the participants to read. Our mailings had only been about 8% environmental when I took over this job. With my love for the environment and belief that everyone should know more about it, I searched for some more environmental articles on Chile and made sure that our percentages increased!
One of the best things about my job was that I never felt like I was given busy work or assigned random tasks so that the organization could boast to their sponsors about having interns, as I have heard many of my friends complain about. I felt like the majority of my work was useful and relevant. I also worked independently on most of my work which allowed me to budget my own time and prioritize all of my own tasks.
My experience exposed me to a wide range of issues and opportunities, giving me a broader picture of the world and environmental issues. As I became more aware of all of the challenges faced by legislatures, I understood that environmental legislation, while still important to me, is one of many issues that legislatures must address. My internet research also opened my eyes to the multitude of environmental organizations that exist and the different ways in which environmental issues are approached. I now have a better understanding of all the opportunities for someone interested in the environment. Environmental issues are a part of many organizations and many companies if you simply know where to look. My experience as an intern at CPA did not help me decide what type of job I want when I graduate in May; rather, it showed me that there are many job opportunities out there that I had not even considered.