A congressional internship in Washington, D.C., is a valuable and, in some cases, critical first step for college students looking to enter public service. The problem is that the vast majority of those positions are unpaid, creating a roadblock for students with limited financial resources.
Enter United’s new non-profit partner College to Congress. Founded by former congressional intern Audrey Henson, the organization helps students and recent graduates cover the cost of interning in D.C., including housing, transportation, groceries, and even a new wardrobe fit for Capitol Hill.
Henson got the idea for College to Congress while managing a congressional campaign, a job she likely wouldn’t have gotten had she not interned for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
That was a life-changing experience, as well as a costly one. Henson was raised in a single-parent household in which money was tight. She went to college with the help of government grants, but she knew an internship was her best shot at realizing her goal of working in the public sector. When it came time, she took out loans to pay her living expenses in Washington.
After arriving, she quickly realized that she was one of only a few interns who didn’t come from economic privilege. That reality flew in the face of everything she believed about democracy’s open doors. College to Congress became her way of fixing a flawed system.
In four years, the nonprofit has awarded scholarships valued at $10,000 apiece to 37 students from financially disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds, enabling those young men and women to live and work in D.C. as interns. As part of the new relationship, United will provide airfare to and from the nation’s capital for scholarship recipients beginning this year.
College to Congress’s track record speaks for itself: 89 percent of its students have ended up working in politics at some level after graduation. Among those is a young man named DaQuawn Bruce.
Bright and preternaturally driven, Bruce told everyone he knew growing up that he would one day become president and find a solution for the poverty and violence that afflicted his neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. By his senior year at Carthage College in Wisconsin, he had received two congressional internship offers, but had turned them both down because he couldn’t afford to live in D.C. One night, he was working on his senior thesis when a friend called and told him about College to Congress.
“I thought it was too good to be true,” Bruce says.
With financial backing from College to Congress, Bruce finally had his ticket to Washington. But the support didn’t stop there. Henson and a team of volunteer mentors put each College to Congress student through an intensive training program, during which they learn how to forge valuable relationships with lawmakers and peers on both sides of the political aisle. Armed with that savvy, Bruce quickly rose through the ranks on The Hill. Today, he has a successful career in government affairs with a prominent private sector company.
When leaders at United heard stories like that, they were instantly sold on College to Congress’s mission. Given that airfare consumes a sizable chunk of the group’s annual budget, they saw a perfect opportunity to contribute.
“With United Airlines’ generous donation, we are able to bring high-achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds to Washington, D.C., in order to fulfill their dreams of interning in the halls of Congress,” Henson says. “With United’s help, we are one step closer to changing Congress, one intern at a time.”