Political science major Finn Galloway-Kane had built a pretty impressive resume heading into his senior year with an internship in Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office and a term as a senator in UVM’s Student Government Association under his belt. Then the White House called and offered him a coveted internship in the Office of the Vice President. He soon found himself preparing briefing materials for Vice President Joe Biden, seating members of Congress at a welcoming event for the Pope, and listening to a speaker series for interns featuring the likes of President and Michelle Obama.
We asked Galloway-Kane about his whirlwind internship over the past semester, how it changed his view of politics, and whether his political science classes prepared him for life inside the Beltway.
How did you manage to land such a coveted White House internship?
I consider myself very lucky to have received this opportunity. Central to the application is a commitment to public service and community involvement. It was really one of the main reasons I was interested in the program. At UVM I have been active with a number of organizations and initiatives, and I think that definitely played into my admission. I became aware of the program during my internship last spring in Burlington with Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office. That first involvement with a political office I think was important in gaining an understanding of office environments and to see if being in D.C. would be something I would enjoy.
Now that you have a few months under your belt, has the internship experience been what you expected?
I truly had no idea what exactly to expect. I was unsure what the dynamic would be like with other interns or how I would cope in such a fast-paced environment. I knew going into it that I would gain an understanding of the executive branch, but what surprised me was the amount of different projects I got to work on and the new skills I had the opportunity to learn as a result. The internship program does an incredible job bringing together a very diverse group of students from a number of different undergraduate, graduate and law schools across the country, who are passionate about different topics in public service. One thing that was unexpected was getting to work on briefing current events. I was actually helping out one of the policy interns on a project compiling shootings in the United States when the Umpqua Community College Shooting was announced on CNN. We had the unfortunate task of adding it to our briefing that day and watching the president make a statement on television in its wake.
What have been the highlights of your internship?
I was fortunate enough to be a part of the internship program during the Holy See's visit. I volunteered for the event, and I was assigned to direct ticketed visitors to the seating area. When the gates slowed down I went and helped distribute flags and helped with directions near the front. I got incredibly lucky and was asked to help seat members of Congress who were situated directly in the front of the podium. Some representatives did not show so I was able to get a seat at the front. It was also cool to see our federal delegation in such a unique setting.
The internship program has a speaker series and as a result we got to hear the first lady, the vice president, the president, the chief of staff, Valerie Jarett and many other members of the administration. Getting to hear these folks speak candidly about their professional lives and hearing their advice for us has been such an incredible opportunity that has drastically changed my view of politics.
I and other interns were really hoping to get a speaker series with the true stars of the white house, Sunny and Bo. The dogs get walked all over the campus, and of course all of the interns, and I am sure some of the staff, are trying to stay reserved and not walk over and pet them.
I understand you work under Vice President Joe Biden. What has that been like? It must have been interesting when he was considering a run for president.
The vice president’s office allows for more involvement with projects and the policy team that works for the VP. For instance, we have one press intern while the president’s team has over 10 interns. As a result, we are exposed to a lot. My time in the office and the work that I do has certainly changed throughout the course of the internship. It was very interesting being inside the building when he made his announcement and even more so to see the incredible energy and focus among everyone to continue working on the vice president’s initiatives after his decision not to run. I sit next to the press intern so from a day-to-day perspective the amount of phone ringing certainly changed. I got to write a briefing for the vice president on Stephen Colbert’s former conversations about religion before his interview on the Late Show in September with the vice president. That was certainly a fun project to be a part of in the midst of waiting on a decision.
What type of work do you do on a daily basis?
I am the intern in the Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs Office. As a result I do a lot of work with current projects and events that the vice president is involved with. Most days I am preparing briefing material for the vice president. This ranges from writing memos on specific companies and people who will be involved to fact checking the weekly political memo that gets sent to the vice president. There are constantly events going on at the White House, and interns get opportunities to be involved with many of them. One of my bosses hosted an event in honor of the National Youth Justice Awareness Month. The event was focused on bringing together formerly incarcerated youth from around the country along with artists and educators to share how art can be a tool for social advocacy. I got to plan, implement and staff the event. It was an incredibly daunting task with over 150 people attending the day-long conference and workshops. It was a week of staying until 10 at night and coordinating with teachers and nonprofits involved and bringing in speechwriters, photographers and artists to teach classes. It has been one of the most rewarding projects of my life. The energy you get when doing work here is amazing.
It’s On US is a initiative started by the president and vice president last year to end sexual assault on college campuses across the country. I have done a lot of work doing memos and briefing the vice president for trips he has done to college campuses promoting It’s On Us. I have helped so far with about seven college visits, and it has been amazing to see such strong It’s On Us programs. We had a trip several weeks ago to the Naval Academy, Clemson and Syracuse as well as a trip in September to Ohio State University. The vice president is an incredible advocate for this work and believes strongly in this program. The vice president was the writer and sponsor of the Violence Against Women Act and getting to see him speak to students and encouraging them to take the pledge to end sexual assault on campus has been extremely powerful. I am so lucky to have been a part of this initiative
Has your coursework in political science helped you with your internship? Has the in-class theory differed from the experience of working in D.C.?
My work in political science and in history has really fed into my desire to understand different tiers of government and how initiatives and policies translate from the campaign trail to people. My passion is education policy, and the professors I have had and the speakers I have been exposed to at UVM have certainly shown me the progression of information. I would say that so much of theory is calculated, and when you interact with folks or get to hear the president or vice president speak very candidly about their advice and their experiences, the theory becomes humanized in a way that I was not expecting.
You seem to have a serious commitment to public service, having won ACCESS’s Defining Excellence Award for Service and Scholarship. Has your White House internship changed the way you think about public service and whether you might want to pursue a career in it?
The experience has really enforced my interest in public service and truly given me a lot of hope for this country. There are so many people who care passionately about many of the issues we face today. Getting to meet some of them and learn from them has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A requirement of the internship is taking part in several community service opportunities in Washington D.C. I chose to work with a food shelf that distributes food to over 100 organizations in addition to an organization that essentially serves as an advocacy group and resource for people who live below the poverty line. Growing up in rural Vermont you are exposed to poverty, but the severity of poverty in some areas within D.C. was truly eye opening to me. I am incredibly glad that I was able to be exposed to new community advocates through the internship and experience very different social issues.
Anything you would like to add about your experience?
Vermont has a very strong federal delegation, and I hope that UVM students take advantage of the internship opportunities within Washington, D.C. I was truthfully reluctant about the perceived culture within D.C. and what working here meant. It has been the most transformative experience of my life, and I would gladly talk to anyone at UVM who is interested in the program.