The University of Maine’s Congressional Internship Program turned 50 last month with a celebration hosted and sponsored by Peter Madigan ’81 at his Washington, D.C., lobbying firm of Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland & Stewart.
Attending the reception were nearly 80 guests including current and former UMaine interns from the offices of Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Rep. Michael Michaud. Also on hand were UMaine faculty and staff and UMaine Honors College students, as well as former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and former Maine Governor John Reed.
Professor Emeritus Kenneth Palmer, who directed the prestigious internship program from 1969 to 2004, traveled to Washington, D.C., from his home in Kittery for the event.
“People very much appreciated the opportunity Peter afforded us to get together and meet the many alumni of the Congressional Internship Program,” said Professor Palmer, noting that interns representing all five decades of the program attended the event.
“For the first time I met alumni who had participated in the program before I took over in 1969,” he continued. “I mean people in their 60’s and not far from my age – 72. It was great! ”
“The event was terrific,” said William Kourakos, a 1977 UMaine graduate and former congressional intern who spent the final semester of his senior year working in Sen. Edmund Muskie’s office.
“It was great to get together with other former interns to see how they viewed their experience,” said Bill, who lives in New York City but remains close to his Maine roots and maintains a residence in Cape Elizabeth.
“Listening to remarks by Peter Madigan, Professor Palmer, Gov. Reed and Secretary Cohen made me feel like I was going back 32 years.”
Bill credits the internship program with paving the way for his career in finance. After graduating from UMaine, he spent a year in Portland working at a newspaper start-up before returning to Washington to work in Sen. Muskie’s office. That job enabled him to finance his graduate school education at George Washington University where he earned an MBA.
“The program opened my eyes to the outside world and sent me on a journey that I never would have taken,” said Bill, now a partner with Perella Weinberg Partners, LP, a financial services firm in New York City.
For Peter Madigan, a congressional intern with Congressman David Emery who later worked with Sens. William Cohen, George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe, the program was a life-changing experience that helped him launch an illustrious career. He was appointed to a senior position in the Treasury Department in the Reagan administration, and has been a strategist for Fortune 100 companies, non-profit organizations, small businesses and foreign heads of state in presenting their issues to Congress.
Other former interns have similar stories. More than a quarter of the 200 UMaine students who have participated in the program are involved in public service or some form of government activity, according to Professor Palmer. “We regarded the program as an especially valuable learning experience for motivated students who wanted to gain exposure in national politics.”
UMaine’s Congressional Internship Program was established in 1957 by Professor Edward Dow, chair of UMaine’s then Department of History and Government, who wanted to provide students with practical government experience to complement their classroom work. Dow knew a number of Maine politicians, including Sens. Frederick Payne and Edmund Muskie, who liked his idea and helped him launch the program.
Since 1972 every member of Maine’s Congressional Delegation has had a UMaine intern. These young people are regarded as full time staff members. They monitor hearings and debates, write press releases, deliver documents to the Capitol, conduct research, attend meetings and events, and correspond with constituents.
The program at UMaine is unusual because students are paid a monthly salary by the congressional offices which helps defray the costs of living in D.C. and ensures that the offices are guaranteed a good worker for the whole semester. Selected each year according to their academic records as well as personal maturity and professionalism, the interns are given a significant amount of responsibility, an indication of the reputation and success of UMaine’s program.
“I believe our program is the gold standard – it is also one of the oldest in the country,” said Professor Palmer. “Right from the beginning it was a partnership between the political science faculty and the Maine delegation members and their staffs. It worked so well because the students did a great job, becoming contributing members of their staffs, and also because we in Orono did our part too. We carefully screened students and made sure the team every year was strong. We worked closely with the congressional delegation and their office staffs. For example, we visited each of the Washington offices every year to check on the progress of the interns.
“We told newly selected interns that they were ambassadors from the University of Maine and that their work would have an impact on how well the Congressional Internship Program operated the next year. Their performance was always excellent and it made a positive impact on both public policy and their individual careers, for which I’m enormously proud.”
April 6, 2009