In the Belly of the Beast Skyler T. Zunk ’19 was an intern at the White House's Office of Political Affairs.
“It was incredibly eye-opening to meet and acquaint myself with some of the some of the smartest, most dedicated civil servants in the entire world.”
Skyler T. Zunk ’19
Hometown: Moseley, Virginia
Major: American Politics
Q: Tell us a little bit about your summer opportunity:
I had the privilege to intern in the White House Office of Political Affairs this past summer. I worked under the regional political director for the Midwest region facilitating research and projects to help fulfill the president’s agenda. It was incredibly eye-opening to meet and acquaint myself with some of the smartest, most dedicated civil servants in the entire world — their devotion to our nation and its continued success was truly inspiring and encouraged me to work harder every day.
Q: What was your favorite aspect of D.C?
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was quite a change in pace compared to Lexington and my hometown. Though city life required a bit of adjustment, I most enjoyed being in the “belly of the beast,” in the center of the country’s attention. Seeing events transpire during the workday and then returning home to hear the media coverage of these same happenings quickly put into perspective the consequential work of all those surrounding me.
Q: What did an average day look like?
The Office of Political Affairs is truly the intersection of politics and policy. Accordingly, my day to day consisted of preparing regional research briefs on national, state and local topics that affected policy and the president’s agenda. On numerous occasions throughout the summer, I attended White House events, such as the Made in America Product Showcase, the Congressional Picnic, and a speaker series inclusive of counselor to the President KellyAnne Conway and Secretary Ben Carson. Every day at the White House was a great day, but no two days were exactly alike.
Q: Who served as a mentor to you this summer, and what did they teach you?
Like every W&L student, I am blessed with an expansive alumni network, especially in Washington, D.C. I had the opportunity to meet several notable alumni, several of whom provided me with exceptional advice on how to navigate D.C careers, life after W&L, as well as how to be a better intern. I’m incredibly thankful for the time and guidance of Professor Bill Connelly, Andrew Olmem ’96 ‘01L, Riley Barnes ’09 and Mr. Rich Spence ’91, among the several others who took the time to launch me in the direction I want to go.
Q: What have you learned at W&L that helped you in this endeavor, and what will you bring back to your life on campus?
In Washington, as at W&L, the importance of relationships is paramount. Washington and Lee thrives because of the relationships students are able to build between themselves, their professors, and the community at large. Washington, D.C. is a big city, but in many ways, it is a small town where people matter and relationships rule.
Q: Has this experience impacted your studies or future plans in any way?
If anything, this experience invigorated my passion for American government and the importance of public service. I have a better idea of how graduate programs can help in different capacities (law, business, policy), but I will likely work for a couple of years prior to any graduate school programs.
Q: Why is this kind of experience important to W&L students?
It is important for all students to intern or work for government at some level because it helps to put into context the challenges we face as a nation and personalizes the efforts by those in the legislature and the executive to improve our country. It is easy to stand back and commentate, commiserate and criticize the political battles of the day; it is another thing to roll up one’s sleeves and try to make meaningful change. When you are up close, you learn that most everyone in government believes they are doing what is best for the nation; the disagreements come when deciding how to make America great.
Q: What kind of funding helped make this experience possible?
Johnson Opportunity Grant, John Warner Public Service Award