The Columns

Women in Charge Laura Stagno ’18 saw the faces of America’s future leaders, including her own, through an internship on Capitol Hill.

— by on November 29th, 2017

Laura Stagno ’18 with Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

“Two of my three bosses were women, and all six of the Ways and Means subcommittee staff directors are women. Interning in an environment in which women dominate so many key positions was extremely rewarding.”

Laura Stagno ’18
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
Major: Economics and Spanish

Q: Tell us a little bit about your summer opportunity:
This summer I interned on Capitol Hill for the majority staff of the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over several key welfare programs including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Unemployment Insurance (UI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), child care and child support. The subcommittee staff consists of a staff director and two professional staffers, whom I work alongside everyday. A Johnson Opportunity Grant made this internship possible.

Q: What was your favorite aspect of being in D.C.?
The best part of interning in D.C. was living in such close proximity to all of the daily political action. Whether I was walking the halls of the Capitol or the Longworth Building or watching a hearing in the Ways and Means hearing room, I was surrounded every day by ambitious, dedicated and passionate leaders and staffers who inspired me to fight for what I believe in.

On the weekends, I was able to explore several of the cultural and historical sites that D.C. has to offer, such as the Smithsonian Institution museums, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress. One of my favorite memories is when I went to the Library of Congress, registered for a library card and read my book in the famous Reading Room. There is always somewhere to go, someone to meet or something to learn in D.C., which makes the city an amazing summer home for students.

Q: What did an average day for you look like?
Every day was different. My daily responsibilities included answering the phone, putting together daily news clips for my bosses, sending out the day’s congressional hearing schedule and researching various issues. But my internship also took me far beyond our office walls. I had the opportunity to attend hearings, markups, and policy briefings around the Hill; sit in on Ways and Means staff and member meetings; watch the House floor and sit down with Kevin Brady, the Ways and Means chairman, in his office.

Q: What was the most rewarding part of your experience?
I was surrounded every day by the most intelligent, motivated and passionate individuals, and that in itself fulfilled me. The legislative process can be frustrating and slow, but that does not keep my bosses from fighting every day for our society’s most vulnerable members.

I was particularly inspired by the large number of intelligent and strong women in positions of power on the Hill. Two of my three bosses were women, and all six of the Ways and Means subcommittee staff directors are women. Interning in an environment in which women dominate so many key positions was extremely rewarding.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced?
The biggest challenge I faced happened only about three weeks into my internship. I was informed that my office’s legislative assistant was going to be leaving for another job in the next week. My bosses told me that they would need me to fill in as the subcommittee’s temporary LA until they were able to hire someone else. I was extremely nervous about having to move up to the front desk and take on a whole new set of responsibilities. Adjusting to my new role was definitely difficult at first. I messed up the phones more times than I would like to admit and had to get used to manning the front desk and seeing to it that everyone who came into the office was attended to. While the change challenged me at times, and I often felt unqualified for the role, it was an amazing opportunity that undoubtedly opened new doors for me. The experience taught me to never underestimate myself, to accept my mistakes and, most importantly, to learn from my mistakes.

Q: Who served as a mentor to you this summer, and what did they teach you?

I looked to Rosemary Lahasky, one of the professional staff in my office, as my mentor. Rosemary taught me something arguably more valuable than what I could ever learn in a textbook or a class. She taught me the importance of developing personal relationships with the people I work with. From day one, Rosemary made the effort to get to know me on a personal level and did not allow me to be shy. By virtue of her mentorship, I am more confident in my own abilities and have built strong relationships with my bosses.

Q: What have you learned at W&L that helped you in this endeavor, and what have you brought back to your life on campus?
All of the economics courses I have taken at W&L have improved my research and analytical skills. When my bosses asked me to research issues and analyze reports and papers, I could complete those tasks confidently and successfully. Thanks to the small class sizes offered at W&L, I have grown accustomed to developing relationships with my professors. Thus, I began my internship well prepared to work with and learn from all of my superiors at Ways and Means.

I am not only grateful for the professors I have had at W&L but also for the W&L alumni network. Without the advice and encouragement I received from several alumni last fall, I would not have had the internship. Moreover, the W&L alumni who work on Capitol Hill were an incredible source of guidance and mentorship for me this summer outside of the Ways and Means Committee. Therefore, when I returned to campus in the fall, I planned to continue to take advantage of the network and encourage other students to do the same. I look forward to becoming part of the W&L alumni network after I graduate and having the opportunity to help future W&L students explore their passions.

Q: Has this experience impacted your studies or future plans in any way?
I went into the summer with the idea that I wanted to pursue a career in policy or politics, but I needed an internship experience such as this one to assure myself that I am headed down the right career path. I aspire to return to Washington and make a difference, and my experience interning with the Ways and Means Committee has given me the motivation and the courage that I need to never give up on that goal. As one of the thousands of summer congressional interns, I felt at times like just another face in the crowd. But I refuse to adopt such a mindset. In that crowd, I see the faces of America’s future leaders, including my own. That image reminds me every day to never underestimate myself and to always follow my dreams.

Q: Why is this kind of experience important to W&L students?
I would tell any W&L student who wants to learn about politics or decide if a career in politics is for him/her to intern on Capitol Hill. This opportunity has allowed me to learn firsthand about the political and legislative process, especially all of the nitty-gritty aspects. More importantly, I believe that some of the most impactful experiences that young college students can have are those that humble us. My internship has not only been an incredible learning experience but also a humbling one, as my preconceived opinions and views have been challenged significantly since I began my internship in June.

Q: Describe your summer adventure in one word:
Exciting.

Q:What kind of funding helped make this experience possible?
Johnson Opportunity Grant