By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Washington, D.C., is the mecca of American politics.
It’s the center of the federal government, a historic city where major decisions that impact the country and world are made.
For political science students, there’s no better place to prepare for a future career.
“Oftentimes, D.C. internships are the first step toward working for the federal government,” said Tanner Butler, a senior at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Butler and two other UNK political science majors spent part of their summer in the nation’s capital, where they gained valuable experience while working as interns for Congress members and a government relations firm.
A Broken Bow native, Butler completed a six-week internship with U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith’s office. He served as a contact for constituents – answering phone calls and questions and relaying messages to the congressman. Butler also led public tours of Capitol Hill and conducted research, focusing specifically on issues related to the House Ways and Means Committee. Smith is currently in the race for chair of that committee.
Additionally, Butler was able to sit in on committee hearings, attend a professional lecture series and hang out with Smith during the Congressional Baseball Game.
“In political science, we’re learning about what’s happening in Congress and in D.C. all the time,” Butler said. “It’s amazing to be out there, because you get a much deeper understanding.”
Butler is minoring in public law and he’s part of the Kearney Law Opportunities Program (KLOP), a partnership between UNK and the University of Nebraska College of Law that recruits and trains students to become lawyers in rural areas. Participants receive a full-tuition scholarship to attend UNK and guaranteed admission to the College of Law in Lincoln if all requirements are met.
Previously, Butler completed an internship with Smith’s district office in Nebraska and the Buffalo County Attorney’s Office.
“I would 100% recommend going to D.C.,” he said.
UNK junior Braden Peterworth of Sutton had a similar summer experience. He interned with the office of U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, fulfilling a dream to visit Washington and participate in the federal government.
“Before I go to law school, I knew I wanted to find some way to get out to D.C. and experience government there, the culture there and tourism there,” he said. “The fact that Sen. Fischer and her office gave me this opportunity to be out there for 10 weeks really allowed me take everything in.”
A public law minor and member of the KLOP program, Peterworth was in D.C. from late May until the end of July. Like Butler, he assisted with constituent services, led Capitol tours, researched specific policy areas and observed committee hearings.
“It was really awesome to be hands-on and really help her staff execute legislation for Nebraskans,” Peterworth said. “We are very fortunate that we have great professors in our political science department, so I was well prepared. I also think it’s going to be really helpful to bring these experiences back to my classes and research.”
Peterworth studies presidents and the way they address human rights issues, so discussions about the ongoing war in Ukraine were particularly interesting to him.
He had a few one-on-one interactions with Fischer and met “a lot of really great Nebraskans” during tours.
“In terms of internships that political science students should be looking for, this should be at the top of the list,” he said. “It was extremely valuable.”
As a bonus, Peterworth participated in the Washington D.C. Professional Enrichment Academy – a free, value-added program for University of Nebraska students interning in the city. Through the program, students meet once a week to connect with prominent alumni, expand their professional networks, discuss current topics and learn more about potential careers.
UNK senior Earlen Gutierrez of Lexington has been part of the program the past two summers.
Last year, she interned with TurnUp, a nonprofit organization and mobile app that promote youth advocacy and civil engagement. She met two vice presidents from Cassidy and Associates through the Professional Enrichment Academy, which led to this year’s internship with the government relations firm.
As a legislative research intern, Gutierrez attended congressional hearings and wrote summaries for clients. She also researched specific legislation and compiled news reports.
Gutierrez is most proud of her research for the Migrant Clinicians Network, a nonprofit organization that works with clinicians worldwide to increase health care access and quality for migrants.
“The UNK Political Science Department really prepares us for this kind of work and it’s given us really excellent research skills, which are needed,” said Gutierrez, who’s minoring in public law and ethnic studies.
At UNK, her research focuses on areas such as environmental policy and environmental justice. She wants to promote changes that can improve life for everyone.
“That’s what we’re out here looking for. What’s the next step? How do we get better?”
Gutierrez was in D.C. from early June to mid-August. Outside her internship, she connected with Nebraska state Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln through LinkedIn and met him for coffee near the White House. She also sat down with the deputy chief of staff for U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas.
“This experience really helped me get out of my comfort zone, not only personally but professionally,” she said. “It’s been insightful to hear how people have gotten here and what decisions they made to get here.”
Like Butler and Peterworth, Gutierrez plans to attend law school after graduating from UNK.
“I know for sure I want to go back to D.C. because I really like it there and that’s where I feel like I can make the most impact,” she said. “I want whatever I do to end up helping someone somewhere.”