Summer internships are one important way that students can explore passions they want to pursue as a profession. They are exposed to a form of learning that goes beyond the books and may be the best chance they have to ensure they are making a wise investment. I am a strong believer in the notion that, in order to have your issues heard, you need to have a seat at the table; which is why I applaud HBCU students who are interested in pursuing government and policy and have worked with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to ensure they have summer internships opportunities on Capitol Hill.
Representative Bryne (R-Ala.) and I founded the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus in April of 2015; we knew there needed to be a platform to promote and protect the needs and interests of HBCUs around the country. After two years, the caucus now consists of nearly sixty members in both the House and the Senate, who recognize the importance of HBCUs and applaud their history of producing successful graduates. The more than 100 HBCUs nationwide only account for three percent of all institutions of higher learning in the U.S. yet they produce 20 percent of African American graduates with a bachelor’s degree and 25 percent of African American STEM graduates. This issue is personal to me, because I would not be here today if it were not for an HBCU that was willing to take a chance on me. I am a strong advocate for our schools because I know, firsthand, the impact they have on a student’s life.
During the summer of 2016, Representative Mark Walker (R-N.C.) and I partnered together to create the Bipartisan HBCU Internship. Our vision was to create a program that brought bright and driven HBCU students to Capitol Hill to intern in both a Republican and Democratic office. During its first year, two HBCU students, one from North Carolina A&T University and one from Johnson C. Smith University, traveled to Capitol Hill for the internship program. Each student spent four weeks in my office and four weeks in Representative Walker’s office to get a feel for the differences and many commonalities we share. They attended congressional hearings and committee meetings, drafted memos and constituent correspondence, and met with Members of Congress and their senior staff to learn from their experiences. Often, Capitol Hill internships are unpaid and the prohibitive cost of living in Washington, D.C. without an income excludes many qualified applicants from the opportunity. To ensure students of all backgrounds and economic levels can participate, the Bipartisan HBCU Internship includes a stipend to cover expenses during the eightweek program.
Upon completion of the internship, students left D.C. with writing samples, work experience, incredible memories, and personal connections to aid them in their job search after college. But it’s not just students that benefited from this experience, Democrats and Republicans alike got to hear directly from HBCU students about their campus life, challenges they face, and their pride in their institutions. Their presence made our fight for HBCUs personal and reminded Members of Congress that our similarities far outweigh our differences.
W.E.B. Dubois said, “Of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for 500 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental.” HBCUs are rooted in the tumultuous history of race in America but their contributions to modern society go far beyond their humble beginnings. HBCUs play an integral role in educating students of color and, with increased advocacy and a seat at the decision-making table, their reach will continue to grow.
Congressman Walker and I are proud to continue this internship for a second summer to increase the diversity of opinions and experiences on Capitol Hill and to build a pipeline of HBCU students to Washington, D.C.
Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12) is a two-time graduate of North Carolina A&T and a retired professor of Art Education from Bennett College. Adams founded the first-ever Bipartisan HBCU Caucus and is one of the leaders of the Bipartisan HBCU Internship. For more information about the internship, please visit Adams.house. gov.