Williams College graduate Tyler Holden spent her summer at the White House.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williams College graduate Tyler Holden this summer was one of about 150 collegians and recent graduates from across the country who participated in the White House Internship Program.
The program's stated purpose is to "make the White House accessible to future leaders around the nation and to prepare those devoted to public service for future leadership opportunities."
Holden and Williamstown resident Laura Gerrard, who attends Amherst College, were among those who had that access to the corridors of power and learned those lessons of service in our nation's capital.
For Holden, it was a second tour of duty in D.C. And in a recent email interview with iBerkshires.com, it was clear that she cherished the experience.
"The exposure and opportunities that the White House provides are endless, and I cannot thank the White House staff enough for welcoming and mentoring me in their areas of expertise," the New York City resident said.
Holden took the time to share more thoughts about the White House internship, her time at the Department of Homeland Security and her future.
QUESTION: Tell me a little about your duties as an intern? Did they change throughout the internship — in terms of what offices you served in? I mean, was it set up as a series of rotations or did you really focus one specific area throughout?
HOLDEN: I was lucky to work in the Office of Digital Strategy, which is a department within the Executive Office of the President. ODS interns are generally divided into one of four concentrations — content, engagement, video, or Web development — however, I was able to gain exposure into all of these areas due in part to the fact that I extended my internship beyond the original term.
• As a part of the Digital Strategy team, my duties included, but were not limited to, the following: Digitally documenting and amplifying the administration’s accomplishments through blog posts, infographics, videos, and social media.
• Working as a front-end Web developer for White House properties, including the White House website and Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.
• Writing for the White House and Let’s Move! blogs (including pieces on the future of education, arts, sports, the first lady’s appearance in Parade Magazine and her call to raise a healthier generation of kids).
• Proposing, drafting, and implementing new strategies to share the president’s message through online platforms. Assisting the video team with filming, editing, and sharing final videos online
• Helping at White House events, including the White House Fourth of July Party, the National Medals of Arts and Humanities Ceremony, and the Kids’ State Dinner.
QUESTION: You said you were 'lucky' to work in the ODS. Did you express a preference for that office or did you just happen to be assigned there?
HOLDEN: I did express ODS as a preference.
QUESTION: Were there any projects that really stood out — either because you took particular pride in it or because it was something that allowed you to develop a new skill or work on a task you didn't expect to be tackling?
HOLDEN: As a part of the Web Team, I was able to bolster my Web development skills in ways that I could not even imagine at the beginning of my internship term. President Obama's digital team is renowned for its ability to communicate to the public and understandably it takes time to get up to speed with their comprehensive coding and content best practices. The learning curve at the White House is steep, but well worth the effort and investment.
QUESTION: Was this a longtime dream for you?
HOLDEN: Working at the White House has forever been a dream of mine, and I hope to use my career to enhance the connections and communications between government and the citizenry in the years to come.
As a history and political science double major at Williams, I realized the immense importance of communicating a message effectively in order to sway minds and accomplish meaningful objectives.
With the support of professor Jessica Chapman, I wrote my senior honors thesis at Williams College on the intersection of politics, mass media, and the public from 1933-60, with particular emphasis on John F. Kennedy’s early attention to the new television medium.
In the process of writing my thesis, titled 'One Country Watching Television: How Kennedy Became the First Television President,' I was fascinated by President Kennedy’s attention to and mastery of television before other politicians took its presence seriously.
Many have made the claim that President Obama is our country’s first digital president and parallels to Kennedy abound in today's media. I could think of no more meaningful opportunity than to contribute as a part of the team that is shaping President Obama's legacy as a media and political agent for the years to come.
Beyond my academic interest in politics and the media, I take seriously the opportunity to learn from leaders in the public sector, many of whom I aspire to emulate.
QUESTION: What was the selection process like?
HOLDEN: The selection process is time-consuming and rigorous, but I highly recommend that anyone with an interest in public service consider applying. The online application requires two essays and letters of recommendation, in addition to a series of short-answer questions.
In the application, you are asked to list office preferences, and the White House Internship Program coordinators work to match your interests to office requests. In my case, I had listed the Office of Digital Strategy as a preference, and they contacted me directly for a panel interview. I then had to complete a timed writing sample as the next stage of the formal application process. A background check and invitation to join the White House Internship Program ensued.
QUESTION: Did you get any feedback on why you were selected?
HOLDEN: I did not receive specific feedback about why I was selected, however I assume that my demonstrated commitment to public service, including my experiences as an intern at the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo enhanced my application.
QUESTION: What was it like working with Homeland Security?
HOLDEN: Working in the Department of Homeland Security was an incredible experience that opened my eyes to the executive branch of the federal government. In the Office of Public Affairs, I was a part of the Web Team, which overhauled the aesthetics and content management system of DHS.gov during the summer of 2012. It taught me about the importance of organizing complex information readily for public consumption.
QUESTION: At the White House this summer, did you have any encounters with luminaries whose names we might recognize during your internship?
HOLDEN: As a part of the White House Internship Program, there is a top-notch speaker series of White House officials designed to provide personal insight into their experiences and advice for our generation of leadership. Speakers included Valerie Jarrett, Cody Keenan, Pete Rouse, David Agnew, and my office's director, Macon Phillips. Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama also joined us for unforgettable speaker series events as well.
QUESTION: Do you think you made relationships with any of your fellow interns who you will stay in touch with?
HOLDEN: Definitely. The White House Internship Program attracts individuals who care deeply and passionately about this country's future. I became good friends with many in my intern class and am excited to see where they next end up.
QUESTION: You said you aspire to emulate some of the leaders who learned from on your internship. What are your postgraduation plans? Do you see yourself going into electoral politics or the civil service or something else altogether?
HOLDEN: I graduated from Williams this past June, and this summer has been quite a whirlwind: With just one full day of rest and packing after graduation, I began at the White House on June 4, 2013.
Just after Election Day in 2012, I was offered a position as an associate consultant at OC&C Strategy Consultants in Boston. I am joining the firm on Oct. 1. I opted for a later start date in order to work at the White House this summer. As an associate consultant, I'll be a part of problem-solving teams for organizations in all sectors of society — be it industry, media, or public service — and I plan to use my experience as a consultant to gain a broad swath of knowledge that applies across fields.
I see myself returning to the public sector — either working on a campaign or in the executive branch — in the future, though I believe that knowledge of how the private-sector functions will enhance my ability to generate change going forward.
QUESTION: It sounded like you had one of the better summers to be in Washington from a weather standpoint. Did you have much 'free time' to explore the nation's capital?
HOLDEN: Since I spent the summer of 2012 in Washington as an intern at the Department of Homeland Security, I was fortunate enough to arrive this summer in D.C. with recent visits to major museums and monuments under my belt. Whether spending evenings by the Lincoln Memorial, which was just a few blocks from where I lived, or exploring the Newseum, I immersed myself in the opportunities that Washington provides over the past two summers.
Especially while working at the White House, the history and gravitas of this nation comes to life. The thrill and novelty of walking through the halls of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building each day or into the East Room of the White House residence never got old. I am incredibly humbled and honored to have served as even a small part of the White House's history in recent months. I'll certainly never forget this experience.