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‘No Two Days Alike’: Catherine Aguilar ’16 Talks About Her Internship at the White House
What would lead a Smithie to spend the spring semester of her senior year away from the college? For Catherine Aguilar ’16, it was the chance to be an intern at the White House.
“I couldn’t let this huge opportunity pass me by,” said Aguilar of Cerritos, Calif., who was one of 150 young people from around the country selected for the competitive internship program in Washington, D.C.
The White House Internship Program is open to U.S. citizens who are college students or recent college graduates and to military veterans. Applicants must demonstrate leadership skills and a commitment to public service. The purpose of the hands-on internship program “is to make the ‘People’s House’ accessible to future leaders from around the nation,” according to the program’s website.
Interns are chosen to work in one of several White House departments, including the Domestic Policy Council, the Office of the First Lady, the Office of Legislative Affairs, the Office of Public Engagement and the Office of the White House Counsel.
Aguilar, an environmental science and policy major who began her internship in January, is working in the Office of Scheduling and Advance, which involves planning events and keeping on top of President Barack Obama’s schedule.
Here’s what Aguilar had to say about her first few months in Washington, D.C., in an interview coordinated by the White House Office of Specialty Media.
What drew you to the White House Internship Program?
Aguilar: “Growing up, my parents would tell me about the positive impacts they were making as active leaders in our community and how I could dedicate myself to making our community and this world a better place. I was drawn to apply to the White House Internship Program because my goal of serving others aligns with the motives of the program and would allow me to serve on a national level. My previous volunteer work at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, undergraduate coursework as an environmental science and policy major and public policy minor, internships with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and three years of service on Smith’s Student Government Association are all factors that have molded me into an experienced communicator, researcher, analyzer and leader. With these skills, it was my hope that through the White House Internship Program, I would be immersed in larger-scaled public service projects and make a difference beyond the boundaries of my own community.”
What’s a day-in-the-life like for you in your position at the White House?
Aguilar: “As an intern in the Office of Scheduling and Advance, I never have the same two work days because most of my projects depend on the president’s schedule, which is something that is constantly being updated. In other words, I don’t do the same thing every day—which definitely keeps things exciting. One of my responsibilities is to categorize and respond to invitations and requests addressed to the president. I also assist with the planning and preparations that go into supporting the president at in-town, domestic and international events.”
What’s been the best part about your internship?
Aguilar: “The best part of my White House Internship has been the opportunities that my department has offered. My responsibilities have given me the chance to build connections with professionals who share similar interests in policy and public service. Helping prepare for events is especially rewarding because I get to see the president and listen to him deliver his remarks at these events.”
How did being at Smith prepare you for this experience?
Aguilar: “One of the biggest parts of my Smith life that prepared me for this internship was my three years of leadership experience on Student Government Association (SGA). I served in different capacities as first year class president, SGA secretary and SGA vice president. Through these leadership positions, I had to organize events and run my own meetings. This included planning meeting times, coordinating meeting places, preparing discussion topics, coming up with an effective agenda, reminding people to attend my meeting, making sure my secretary sends a follow-up email of my meeting, and then repeating the whole process to prepare for the next meeting. The skills I gained in scheduling, coordinating, communicating with different communities, planning and running effective meetings are all relevant skills I have used as an intern in the Office of Scheduling and Advance.”
What have you learned from being a White House intern?
Aguilar: “So far, I have learned how important it is to be open to alternatives other than the original plans we may have for ourselves. It’s okay to have destination goals in life. But to hone in and solely focus on achieving just that one set of goals is not always the best thing to do because we may miss out on better opportunities. By being open to other opportunities that come our way, we set ourselves up for greater success.”
What will you do next?
Aguilar: “I took my senior year spring semester off to do this internship—I couldn’t let this huge opportunity pass me by! So I plan to return to Smith this coming September to finish my final semester as an undergrad. After vacationing, I hope to do a summer internship that would allow me to combine my interests in environmental science and public policy with my passions in public service and leadership. Eventually, I hope to start my own mentoring program. Ingraining the power of helping others—in children especially—is something I am truly passionate about. Ultimately, as a mentor, I would aim to guide my mentees to their own commitment in public service. I would also like to share my experiences in public service, such as what it was like to serve on SGA and as an intern in the White House.”