“I thought I knew about government, but I certainly did not once it came down to it.”
It’s 580 miles from the halls of SPEA Indy to the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C. On the surface, our nation’s capital seems vastly different than Nathan Saylors’ hometown. To Saylors, Washington, D.C. still felt like home.
“They say that everyone knows everyone and you can’t fully understand it unless you are part of the community,” says Saylors, who grew up in a small Indiana town “surrounded by miles of corn fields.”
Alongside those cornfields of Converse, Indiana, the first seeds of Saylors’ passion were planted. It was there that he first heard about the issue of human trafficking and knew he had to help.
Those plans brought him to IUPUI and to SPEA to study criminal justice.
“I chose IUPUI because it was in the heart and soul of Indianapolis,” Saylors says. “I knew the thriving city of Indianapolis would have the proper resources and my professional goals would be in arm’s reach.”
Not only resources, but also opportunities that would bring him closer to his goal. That includes SPEA’s Washington Leadership Program. Each fall and spring semester, SPEA sponsors the semester-long program that provides a unique opportunity for junior and senior undergraduate students of all majors to gain first-hand knowledge of how Washington works.
“This opportunity is a critically important experience,” Saylors says. “It’s important to learn about issues in the classroom and then be able to see for yourself how government agencies work together to address them.”
Building Networks and Relationships:
“You can network and potentially find something that you’re interested in that you never even knew existed.”
Students in the Washington Leadership Program take two 3-credit-hour courses, meet with prominent speakers and leaders, take field trips around the nation’s capital, all while developing the professional skills and experience they’ll need to make a difference.
Saylors says his decision to apply wasn’t one he took lightly. But he knew the experience, challenges and hard work involved would be worth it.
“It’s a huge step and a huge decision in your life to go away from your friends and family for an entire semester,” he says. “If you want to accomplish anything, you’re going to have to put forth effort. True grit is shown behind the scenes when no one is looking.”
Participants in the Washington Leadership Program work alongside professionals while completing internships in the public, private or nonprofit sectors. While students must research and apply for their own internships, SPEA Career Services is available to provide guidance through the process.
“I reached out to different nonprofits and applied to different federal law enforcement agencies,” Saylors recalls. “I didn’t get all the offers that I initially wanted. However, when I was in a time of need, I leaned on the SPEA Career Services whom assisted in securing my spot as a U.S. Marshals intern.”
Saylors says a Washington Leadership Program alumna who previously interned with the U.S. Marshals Service even helped in the application process, adding “It’s really beautiful to see the network of connections that IUPUI has for the benefit of its students.”
And even though some applications didn’t turn into offers for Saylors, those doors didn’t close.
“Even though I didn’t intern at some of those organizations, I was able to go and talk to them in person at their headquarters,” Saylors says “I now have a range of contacts just from simply talking to them.”
Saylors points out that networking opportunities exist everywhere, whether in the office, riding the Metro train or on the street with strangers.
“Every day, I would see the same people on the trains,” he recalls. “It’s really interesting to see the different culture and the influx of people that come from all over. You’ll have people from Florida and California and New York all come and meet at the same place. There’s not one type of person that’s going to be there.”
Real Life, Real Lessons:
“When you actually go out in the real world and do what you’re interested in doing, it definitely makes what you’re doing worthwhile.”
Saylors’ internship was with the Judicial Security Division, specifically in the Office of Security Systems. He initially worried he would be assigned to monotonous tasks, but soon learned that wasn’t the case. Instead, his work involved x-ray machines, walk-through metal detectors, and closed-circuit television systems – the tools used to keep federal judges and those in the court systems safe. While he does recall compiling spreadsheets, he admits their true value wasn’t clear until the end of his internship.
“I discovered that all of the things that I thought were mundane tasks at the time made sense when all of the parts and pieces came together at the end,” he says. “I hope that it made a significant impact.”
Saylors also learned intangible lessons that only come with experience in professional environments. “You’re able to hold yourself accountable for your actions in a more professional sense,” he says. “Since you’re around the professional environment all the time, it boosts your productivity and also makes your communication skills – in terms of emails, memo writing, research – much more efficient.”
He also witnessed fellow interns succeed and fail on the job. He says an intern from another program was actually fired from the internship, while two others were offered positions working with the federal government. Both of those scenarios, as well as many others, provided learning opportunities for Saylors.
Living in Leadership:
“I’ve made some of my best friends through the Washington Leadership Program.”
The Washington Leadership Program includes students from both IUPUI and Indiana University in Bloomington. Students live together in small groups, an arrangement Saylors says provided a place to discuss, reflect and build lasting bonds.
“One of my roommates was human resources, one of them was environmental science, I was criminal justice, we had political science, the list goes on,” he says. “For me, the clashing of different perspectives and backgrounds was definitely a conversation starter which led to very interesting debates and discussions.” Those differences didn’t divide. Instead, he says they did quite the opposite and united the group.
Participants also have the opportunity to go on excursions around the area, whether it be as a group or on their own. The typical week includes classes and internships Monday through Thursday, leaving time for class excursions on some Fridays, long weekends, and memorable experiences. Saylors says some people went to the National Zoo, visited the White House or even travelled to New York City.
Saylors’ connection to the Indiana University family often played a key role in connections outside of his small group, even opening doors to conversations with people he had never met. “What really surprised me was that if I would wear an IUPUI shirt or an Indiana University shirt out in public, people would stop and ask questions about it,” he recalls. “For me it was an eye-opener. I didn’t realize how many Indiana University alumni lived out in D.C. so it really was a big conversation starter. It breaks the ice.”
The Road Home and the Road Ahead
“It was one of the best experiences of my life. Honestly, if I could go back and do it all over again, I would.”
Once his four-month experience was over, it was time to come home to Indiana. Saylors says he returned to Indianapolis a more independent and professional individual, inspired to learn more. “I thought I knew about government, but I certainly did not once it came down to it. However, after-the-fact I feel more confident in understanding how our government operates.”
He was welcomed home by family and friends, all eager to know what his experience had been like. “It’s really hard to hone in on one thing or a couple things because that’s part of your life now,” he recalls. “There’s no possible way to that you could talk about it in a short spiel. To me, it was extremely life changing.”
The Washington Leadership Program helped Saylors hone in on his future goals. “My ultimate goal is to work for an organization, whether it’s federal or nonprofit, that helps with human trafficking prevention and rescue,” he says, determined to make a difference.
“I can see myself going back there, for sure,” he says. “I left certain parts of D.C. out of my agenda so I have more sights to see and an excuse to go back.”
Advice from an Alum
“Take advantage of the opportunity in your internship and being in D.C. to get to know a variety of people.”
Saylors does have closing advice for those chosen to participate in the Washington Leadership Program:
- Know the players: “I wish I would’ve taken classes related to public affairs and government, in general, before so I wouldn’t have to play catch up the entire time. Even though I was put in that situation, there’s enough time in between projects to learn and understand concept.”
- Plan ahead: “Since you’re going to be in D.C. for four months, it takes approximately three months for a background check to get into the White House. You want to start that earlier rather than later.”
- Stay focused: “Stay steady on what you’re passionate for but fall in love with whatever job and career path you want to go down. At the end of the day, you have to be the one who lives with it.”
- Speak to strangers: “Take the headphones off. Go out there and talk to somebody. You can’t understand the culture until you fully immerse yourself within the community.”
“I strongly believe that it is worth it,” Saylors says. “It was definitely a challenge, but once the time and effort got put into it, it definitely became, for me, like a work of art.”
The deadline to apply for the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 semesters is Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. To apply, students can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.