Thousands have had their photo taken in front of the White House, countless visitors have toured the White House, but few can say they have spent part of their undergraduate academic career interning inside of the White House. For Nate King ’15, a student in Valparaiso University’s Christ College — The Honors College, stepping through the doors of the White House was a reality nearly every day for an entire semester while he completed a communications internship during the Lutheran College Washington Semester.
“Being in the White House — given the history of the building — was a very powerful experience for me and one that I hope will serve me well in the future,” he said.
Nate was part of a group of five Valpo students who traveled to Washington D.C. for the semester-long program, which provides students with real-world work experience and prepares them for future careers. The program highlights professional experience as its centerpiece, and students attend class one day a week. Students also tour landmarks and monuments, volunteer at non-profit organizations, and attend sporting events and enjoy other area attractions.
Nate worked as a portfolio professional in the Office of Presidential Correspondence and was responsible, along with others in the office, for coordinating President Barack Obama’s correspondence. He was involved in receiving, processing, and responding on behalf of the president to thousands of emails, letters, and phone calls each day.
With more than 300 million people living in the United States alone, the president needs assistance with the daunting task of ensuring the many citizens who reach out to him at the White House are heard. Nate played a significant role in this respect and was responsible for analyzing and coding specific sections of mail, as well as working on the White House comment line to help the president process feedback from the American people.
This experience gave Nate invaluable insight to the United States democratic government and a deeper understanding to the importance of facilitating communication. And while he may not have all the answers as he sets forth with his career, Nate hopes to use and apply the newfound skills, talents, and knowledge acquired through this internship to his future plans in the political sector or a religious setting.
“I’m very thankful to attend Valpo where the opportunity to work at the White House and a semester-long academic program is available. It’s another facet of my education that has blown me away and shaped me as the person I’m going to be, and I’m grateful,” Nate said.
Valpo is part of a consortium of 13 private Lutheran colleges and universities who offer the Lutheran College Washington Semester. Any Valpo junior or senior with a 3.0 can apply for the program from any department or discipline, and three to five students typically participate each semester.
Because the program has existed for nearly 20 years, there are many Valpo alumni who have participated in the semester and now work in the greater D.C. area. These alumni continue to support the program and help Valpo students find internships at places like the Federal Reserve, Interpol, the Smithsonian, and the Department of Justice.
“Nate pursued the White House all on his own. He’s quite impressive,” said Professor Amy Atchison, who coordinates the program. “Because of the confidential nature of President Obama’s correspondence, Nate couldn’t even talk about what he did or where he was situated in the building.”
Nate is also a Lutheran Leader on campus, an ambassador through the undergraduate admission office, a campus tour guide, and a phone counselor for prospective students. He writes for the student newspaper, is involved with Student Action Leadership Team (SALT), and is a member of Phi Delta Theta.
In summer 2014, Nate returned to Washington, D.C., as a CAPS Fellow through Valpo’s new Institute for Leadership and Service. The CAPS Fellows Program, which received support in its pilot year from alumni Peter and Bonnie Raquet and from Lilly Endowment Inc., helps students to develop their sense of Calling and Purpose in Society through intensive experiential learning opportunities. Nate is spending his CAPS summer at Lutheran Services in America, focusing on social media advocacy strategies and policy research, attending legislative briefings and Congressional hearings, and tracking legislation on human trafficking. He and the other Fellows will share their experiences on the CAPS Fellows Blog.
“I’m very open at this point to what my future would hold, whether it’s in a faith-based field or in a secular organization,” Nate said. “My semester in D.C. helped me to develop an understanding that my purpose will be related to helping people communicate a message to a greater audience. I’m not sure what package that’s going to come in, whether that’s sharing the gospel with people or clarifying political rhetoric, but Valpo has helped me understand that whatever the shape of my vocation is, I’ll be serving God in some way through communication.”