Desktop News | February 2023
In March 2022, The University of Alabama senior Austin Smithson took a trip that would forever change the scope of his career and life. The political science major went to Washington, DC, with the Washington DC: Professional Development Program to explore the city and make connections, ultimately leading him to an internship in the White House.
Smithson, a first-generation college student, pushed himself out of his comfort zone to find a place on campus after returning from the COVID pandemic. When coming back to in-person classes, Smithson found himself shy, reserved and in need of help finding opportunities. He was presented with the chance to go to DC with the program and was very excited but had no clue about the future possibilities it would bring him.
“I wasn’t expecting to leave with a job or anything. I was just hoping to make some new friends and make some connections,” said Smithson.
Smithson dove into the process of professional development within the program. Being a first-generation college student, he said the program introduced him to resources he had yet to learn about, such as the Career Center. He used their resources such as resume assistance, professional development, Handshake and networking classes to help prepare for the trip.
In DC, Smithson was positioned into many opportunities such as visiting the Kennedy Center, Washington Center and more. This was the first step into seeing how many opportunities are available as they all offered internships in different fields and departments. The program set up conference like meetings with departments such as the Department of Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Homeland Security, Capitol Police and Border Patrol to showcase the department and the many job opportunities they offer. The program also connected Smithson with alumni in DC at a reception, which is highlighted as one of his favorite parts of the trip. He used the tools from the program to have the confidence and skills to create lifelong connections with the alumni. Finally, the program set Smithson up with Clint Robinson, a lawyer with Captial Counsel, to have a one-on-one meeting. Robinson took Smithson along to a luncheon with Rep. Dave Joyce of Ohio to give him the experience of seeing them discuss relevant issues. In addition to all the other industry professionals he got to connect with, Smithson was able to meet Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama and Sen. Richard Shelby’s staff.
Smithson tributes the program to helping build his confidence in his professional development. By building these skills, he set himself up for success in his internship search.
“I can confidently say, I would probably have not ended up in DC had I not gone on that trip,” said Smithson. “Because I was very much in a shell. I wasn’t confident that I could do things like that. But after going on that trip, I opened up and realized that you know, this is something that I could do.”
He accepted an offer from the Office of Public Engagement in the White House for Sept. 12 to Dec. 16, 2022. Smithson describes the goal of the office as “being able to ensure that community leaders and people with diverse perspectives are called upon to give their opinions and have a voice in the government.” During his time, he was paired with the veteran’s director, which lead him to assisting with events such as Veterans Days Breakfast and veteran meetings at the White House. To further support the goal of the office, Smithson was also involved in bringing local, city and state officials to the White House to meet with various administration officials to discuss things that have been done in the community or that need to be done. This experience was eye-opening for him as he was able to build his career within the White House and create connections with so many leaders.
“It really opens up doors that you didn’t think were going to be open or needed to be open,” said Smithson.
Smithson encourages everyone to participate in this experience, especially the first-generation students on campus, because of all the amazing resources and tools you will become exposed to and all the connections you make with faculty, staff, alumni and industry professionals.