Department of Defense-Mineta
Dear Mr. Fitzgerald,
I would like to begin by thanking the University of Iowa for allowing me this opportunity to spend in our Nations Capitol. The four months have passed rapidly, and I am sad to be leaving when there is so much left to do and see. I can honestly say that I am returning to the University of Iowa more knowledgeable, more interested, and most importantly--a better citizen. I have learned about so many things, business, the government, the Department of Defense, American history, communications, politics; the list goes on and on. Every experience I have had leads back to being a better citizen of the United States and confirms the importance that everyone has in this country. I am pleased to say that I have met people from all over and created amazing friendships. There are many people that hope to keep in touch with after my experience here. I look back on the beginning of the semester and laugh when I think of how hard ‘networking’ was pushed by The Washington Center. I loathed the word, and smirked when anyone mentioned it. I realize now that I have done a lot of networking out here, and much to my benefit. I suppose my previous notion of networking is much different than what I feel I’ve done here—built relationships that I hope continue on past this semester.
Shortly after arriving in Washington, the Washington Center has each student write a Learning Objectives Statement. I made professional goals, academic goals, civic goals, and personal goals, along with specific objectives for each goal. I believe that I have fulfilled each goal, possibly surpassed a few.
The goals I am most pleased of accomplishing are my academic goals. My first academic goal was to learn strategies of communication; the class I took was a communication class. To be able to participate actively in class it was necessary to pay attention to the news daily. I read the Washington Post online every morning and watched news stations as I worked out. Our class had reading assignments each week, along with these were discussion questions. Every week I made sure to complete whatever assignment we had, along with looking up extra information on the weekly topic for our discussion. I learned various communication strategies that are commonly seen in business and politics. Along with learning about communication strategies, I learned about American history. I discovered that certain events have triggered many of the things commonly seen in the media today. I also learned that it is crucial to pay attention to the news, seek out numerous sources, and do all you can to find out what, where, and why. This active role is important for all American citizens; it shows the beauty of what we experience everyday, freedom.
The second academic goal I made was to learn how to communicate effectively. I successfully achieved all of my objectives; the first being actively participates in class discussions. Every week I was able to speak knowledgeably on the topic, by preparing for class through methods aforementioned. I asked questions and gave my opinion frequently. I took notes on lectures that our professor gave, which was helpful because they came in handy during our midterm and final role-playing games. Along with all of this, there was not one class that I missed. In an attempt to not give myself too much credit, more than 50 percent of our grade was based on attendance and active participation and all of our class ‘fieldtrips’ were interesting and worthwhile.
My professional goals were easily obtained through the assistance of my supervisors and co-workers. My first goal was to establish an understanding of NSPS (National Security Personnel System) and PEO NSPS (Program Executive Office of NSPS). Although straight forward and arguably simple, this goal was not as easily obtainable as I first imagined. Every Tuesday there were departmental meetings I would attend, although I rarely had much to say at the meetings, I attended and paid attention to the information given by each person which gave me insight into their role in the office. I was given an assignment, creating an oral history of NSPS, which also helped in understanding NSPS through interviewing various members of the office. I spent a lot of time reading various documents, external and internal, as research for my project. Through this, often tedious, reading I learned not only about NSPS, but also how the Department of Defense works and how difficult it is to get an initiative like NSPS implemented. As for my third objective, asking questions, I spent countless hours discussing the system with my supervisor and any other co-workers that had time. The oral history project also gave me a chance to ask whatever questions I wanted.
My second professional goal was to gain experience and skill in a professional business atmosphere. Considering I have never had a ‘real’ job before, it was interesting working in a professional atmosphere to say the least. It is so very different than the life I know at the University of Iowa. My first objective was to observe how co-workers interact and learn how to interact. This task was mainly about observing people and paying attention to when and what is appropriate. To my advantage, my supervisor served as a great mentor; often gave me advice and was always willing to discuss anything. Getting to know the people in my office was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in DC; they were all a pleasure to work with and very kind to me. My second objective was to be flexible and organized so I could successfully complete projects. I obtained this objective by being patient—bureaucracy can be frustrating to deal with—and organized. I often asked questions to make sure I thoroughly understood my projects. I was able to actively seek opportunities and experiences to learn because my supervisor was kind enough to include me in anything she felt that I could learn from. She spent time discussing Washington Center events and various sight-seeing experiences with me as well. It was nice to have a supervisor who understood that working at NSPS was only a portion of my learning experience in Washington.
My first civic goal is a bit shaky on completion; it was to become an active member in community service. I fulfilled the first objective of this goal by participating in a park cleaning sponsored by the DC Jewish Community Center. I was glad to be able to assist in this event, but looking back I wish I would’ve done something that would have lasted all semester and something that I really care about, like tutoring. I love kids, and felt envious of Washington Center students who decided to tutor once a week throughout the semester. However, I believe that this would have been quite a time commitment and I was glad to have most of my evenings free to relax and do whatever. I think becoming empathetic towards others came naturally to me because I felt intrigued and interested in learning about the people I met. Getting to know new people, co-workers, students, our concierge, the people that worked in the café in my building, was the most rewarding experiences I have had in my life. I am walking away with many new friends. My last objective was to be respectful of all members of the community. I feel that I accomplished this through being kind to the people I met. I hope that everybody that came in contact with me walked away being able to say good things about me, and I actively tried to achieve this everyday, with anybody I interacted with.
My second civic goal was to gain an understanding of how the United States Government works. My class and my internship at NSPS were the most helpful in achieving this goal. At first, paying attention to news topics was something that I had to force myself to do. After awhile, I became interested on my own and developed my own opinions on various current events. Working in NSPS, in the Department of Defense, in the public sector was crucial in learning how decisions are made in the United States Government. Virtually everyday I was exposed to the decision making process at my job since NSPS is a new system that just begun implementation. My last objective was to attend and actively participate in the Presidential Lecture Series. I attended each one; unfortunately I was not allowed to enter one of them due to the slow operation of the metro. This was the day of the immigration rally/protest. So instead of attending the lecture, a friend of mine and our program advisor walked to the National Mall to see all of the people gathering for the protest. It was amazing to see. Rarely do we realize that standing up for our rights and voicing our opinions is a freedom that many countries don’t have. Getting back to the Presidential Lecture Series, the speakers were interesting and I learned a lot from each one.
Last, but not least—my personal goals. The first goal was to see monuments and museums in Washington. Let me begin by saying Washington has the most impressive, not to mention free, museums that I have ever seen. I recall one museum I’ve been to that outdoes a museum here, the Getty in California. The thing about that museum though is the fact that the architecture and landscaping there are beautiful. I genuinely feel that the National Gallery of Art housed a better collection; I suppose that is determined by personal preference. The museum/monument that was the most moving was the Holocaust Museum. That was an experience in itself. I learned that each monument has its own history and claim to fame. I recall a class held at the Lincoln memorial; our professor opened the class talking about the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech by Martin Luther King Junior, it gave me chills to think that I was in the presence of such a momentous occasion in American history, figuratively of course. I did not get the chance to do tons of background research on monuments and museums, but I fully intend to. In fact, I just bought a book titled “Ten Days that Unexpectedly Shaped American History”. My last objective was to visit other cities and attractions while in the Northeast portion of the US. Unfortunately, due to time constraints and planning discrepancies, I did not leave the Washington area. I was able to take a trip to Monticello, Jefferson’s home, which I am so glad I did. Traveling with friends was difficult to coordinate, especially without a car.
My very last goal, and probably the most difficult to achieve, was learning to manage time with a full time job. Getting used to an eight-hour day was incredibly difficult for me. At the beginning of the semester I envied the daily schedule of my friends back at the University of Iowa. I never realized how easy I had it there! In terms of free time at least. I am definitely a person who enjoys sleeping in and the freedom of napping between classes. Here, I learned to get up at 6:30 AM everyday, and go to bed around 10:00 PM. The first few weeks were brutal, and I had a hard time getting things done after work. All I wanted to do when I got home was watch TV and eat dinner. I can honestly say that I have learned how to manage my time and get done whatever needs to be done. I did my best to get journal entries in on time, however I was a day late a few times due to forgetfulness. As for class, I kept up with assignments with ease. I’ll admit it was easy since I only had one class to worry about. I suppose the most challenging thing was realizing that I had to fit normal things, like laundry and cooking, in when I could, and it usually meant giving up sacred lounging time. Yes, it was difficult, but now I’ll be prepared for future jobs that will have similar schedules.
This semester has been fruitful in experience and in learning. As you can see I have accomplished all of my goals and am coming away with more than I could have ever imagined. I have been fortunate to receive the Mineta Scholarship and spend a semester in DC with no financial responsibilities. Regardless of any finances, I have been fortunate to have spent a semester in Washington DC, seeing, experiencing, learning, and of course, meeting new people. This city is truly amazing and houses some of the most dedicated people. One of the most important things I have learned by working in the public sector is the employees’ honest dedication to public service. The mission all comes back to our country and how freedom comes first and foremost. I am writing in defense of receiving credit for my semester out here, as you can see from my portfolio a few of the experiences I have had and some of the work I have done. However, this is a small portion of what I have learned out here, most of it is unable to be seen but could be realized by any person who knew me before and after my semester in Washington. I have gained a genuine interest in the government, current events, politics, and people. I have become a dedicated active citizen.