A Tale of Two Cities: Penn Student Capitalizes on Semester in Washington

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | jdisanto@upenn.edu | 215-898-4820February 27, 2014

This spring, while his peers at the University of Pennsylvania are back on campus in Philadelphia, sophomore Ben Stollman is spending the semester in Washington, D.C.

Stollman is participating in the Penn in Washington Semester program, which provides select students interested in public policy with the chance to live, learn and work in the hub of national political action.

Stollman, from Piedmont, Calif., will graduate in May 2016 with a degree in history through the School of Arts and Sciences.

“The opportunity to get work experience on Capitol Hill while also studying political science is one of the most unique academic experiences I can and ever will have,” Stollman says.

Three days a week, he wakes just before 7 a.m., sips his coffee and dons a suit, takes the train and walks to the Hart Senate Office Building, where he is an intern for Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader.

By 8:30 a.m., Stollman is checking his e-mail to see what he needs to do to help things along throughout the course of the day, whether it’s going to a hearing or writing a brief.

At 5 p.m., he rushes out the door to get home, get changed and get to his “Lobbying, Money and Influence in Congress” class by 6. The course covers the basics and is taught by a former lobbyist for AT&T.

In fact, nationally recognized experts teach all the courses that are a part of the Penn in Washington Semester program.

After class, he scarfs down some dinner and does some schoolwork until about 11. To wind down, he’ll try to stay awake to watch an episode of “The West Wing” before bedtime. And then, the whole day begins again.

He started out delivering things to and from the Capitol. But his responsibilities vary from day to day –- and, most important, they’re increasing with time.

“It’s an unbelievable honor to serve the Senate majority leader,” Stollman says. “It is humbling to be surrounded by people who work just as hard as you to accomplish the greater goal of constituency satisfaction.”

If the Senate is in session, Stollman has the opportunity to attend congressional hearings, take notes and write up briefs for staff members.

If the Senate is not in session, he serves as a direct point of contact for constituents and handles other administrative duties.

“The greatest rewards are the unique opportunities that I get to capitalize on,” says Stollman. “I get to see the inner workings of the Senate, an opportunity that I am thankful for every single day.”

Each semester, Penn in Washington organizes several lunches with alumni based on students’ particular interests.  This semester, students have dined with a deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, a senior policy analyst at the Bureau of Land Management and an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Deirdre Martinez, the executive director of Penn in Washington, says the timing is the key element that gives these students the ability to participate in highly sought after internship positions.  

“Penn in Washington Semester students have access to internships that are flooded with applicants during the summer,” Martinez explains.  “But during the school year, these same internship sponsors often e-mail me, looking for qualified candidates.”

When he’s not working or in the classroom, Stollman is training for his first marathon, March 15.  He also likes to explore Washington and its many museums and monuments.

He hopes that his experience in the nation’s capital will grant him additional opportunities to get involved with government and politics in the future. Ideally, he’s hoping to return to Capitol Hill – -not as an intern or a staffer -– but as a representative or senator.

The deadline for the fall 2014 Penn in Washington semester application is March 17.