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August 30--  Dr. Barry Dotson at STC heads up the local UGA alumni group and forwards this information on a former Vidalia High School student from "The Red and Black" newspaper at UGA.

Student interns in the Office of the First Lady, hobnobs with celebrities

By on August 25, 2011

Senior Eric Jones always knew he wanted to have two internships in his life. He wanted one for each of his majors: journalism and political science. What Jones did not foresee was that he would have the opportunity to intern at the White House in the office of Michelle Obama.

Eric Jones participated in the Washington Semester Program, a University program for juniors and seniors interested in working and studying in Washington, DC. ANDREA BRISCOE/Staff

“I applied once or twice before, but this past year I was like, ‘OK Eric, you can do this.’” Jones said. “I put everything I had into it. To get the call back and actually have the opportunity was just mind blowing to me. And that opportunity would never had been available to me if I hadn’t already been accepted into the Washington semester program that UGA does.”

The Washington Semester Program is open to juniors and seniors in all majors who are interested in living, working and studying in Washington, D.C., for a semester.

Students interested in this opportunity go through a vigorous application and interview process, and 20 undergraduates per semester are chosen to represent the University at the capital.

Housing is at Capitol Hill on Constitution Avenue, and is provided by the program. Classes are held in Capitol Hill for the students’ convenience — students who spend the bulk of their day working because they can go back home, relax, eat dinner and class is only a few staircases away.

Each intern has contact with a mentor from his or her school throughout the stay in D.C. Dr. Jamie L. Carson, associate professor of government mass media at the University, aided Jones throughout his application process as well as during his stay in Capitol Hill.

“One of the requirements for an internship is that the students have to send weekly status reports,” Carson said. “His were fantastic because just about every other week he would send one that said, ‘This was the best week yet.’”

While in D.C., Jones interned about 40 hours per week while earning class credit along the way. Classes were scheduled one or two nights of the week to allow interns to focus on work during the day.

Having the Washington Semester Program makes a difference in a University, as it makes interning in DC a more realistic goal for a student who may otherwise be apprehensive about missing a semester of school.

“I think our students have a distinct advantage because they can work full time,” said Don DeMaria, director of the Washington Semester Program. “It helps them stand out compared to other programs or maybe students in other schools who can’t work full time.”

Jones worked in the First Lady’s Correspondence Office with a group of people to ensure that first lady Michelle Obama knew from whom she was getting letters, what the letters said and that writers were getting timely responses.

Jones said the secret service was “no secret” and he spotted them while at work, as well as several celebrities and the Obamas.

“I had some fun run-ins with Jaime Foxx and Smokey Robinson. I got to hold Stevie Wonder’s Louis Vuitton bag.” Jones said. “Between January and May so much happened, you had things going on in Tunisia, Egypt, etc., so many protests going on in the Middle Eastern countries, government that almost shut down, I remember being there for that and stressing out with everyone during those times.”

Jones and his fellow interns attended a going away party near the end of term where M. Obama thanked them herself for all of their hard work. The interns also got to leave D.C. in possession of a group picture taken with President Obama.

DeMaria said he proudly received good remarks about Jones, who represented the University well.

From January to May, many speeches were made, many decisions were altered, many letters were written and the Washington Semester Program made it possible for University interns to be there through it all — a fact that Jones appreciates greatly.

“Those four months were four of the best months of my entire life,” he said.