UMaine’s Congressional Internship program marks 65 years

One of the University of Maine’s most distinguished and celebrated offerings marked a milestone this year.

UMaine’s Congressional Internship program marked its 65th year with a gathering in Washington D.C. earlier this spring, bringing together the current cohort of interns with a selection of former participants whose involvement goes back through the decades, as well as other friends of the program. The gathering took place on April 20 and was co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and the Cohen Institute for Leadership & Public Service.

The event featured Cohen Institute namesake William Cohen, former Congressman, Senator and United States Secretary of Defense, as the guest of honor. Chellie Pingree, the House representative for Maine’s First District, was also in attendance to help celebrate the milestone.

Cohen “spoke earnestly about truth, bipartisanship, and the core Maine principles of hard work and respect,” according to one attendee. Another person in attendance noted that those latter sentiments were “[t]hings that used to be assumed [but are] now good to be reminded of.”

Since 1958, the University of Maine has sent students to spend a semester in Washington D.C., working in the offices of members of Congress. The oldest DC-based program in the nation, the UMaine Congressional Internship Program serves as the gold standard for an unparalleled opportunity for undergraduates to experience working life on Capitol Hill.

Academic programs in which college students spend a semester in Washington, D.C., working in the offices of members of Congress, generally evolved from an earlier – and much shorter – experience provided to students in political science classes called “the week in Washington.” The week usually occurred during the spring break; under the direction of a faculty member, students would travel to Washington, and interview leaders in Congress, executive branch officials, and occasionally a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Many schools developed out these programs into full semester experiences such as the one here at UMaine. However, Maine’s was one of the first and, by all accounts, was and is one of the best of the bunch, thanks to the full and consistent buy-in from all parties involved. Across the board, students, faculty, and – perhaps most importantly – elected officials and their offices have all embraced the process and the possibilities it presents.

The April celebration in D.C. served as a way to mark an auspicious occasion and bring together a collection of individuals whose academic and professional careers – whose very lives – were altered for the better by the doors opened by this internship.

And that attitude of gratitude doesn’t go away after the program’s completion. Past, present and future interns are bound together by this shared experience; while the circumstances may have evolved over the years, the insight that comes from this kind of political perspective is evergreen.