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What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Cooper Conway

Cooper Conway reflects on his Washington, DC internship


In February of 2020, I had a plan in my head of how the rest of the year would go. In the summer, I would head to Taiwan as a fellow in the College of Business and Economics Asia Biztech program. After a successful and rewarding experience there, I would head to Washington DC, where I would intern during the day and take classes at night on the University of California system’s Washington DC campus.

What a great plan, right? What could go wrong? Well, COVID-19 touched down in America soon after, and my plans shifted. My Taiwan trip was canceled in April, and The University of California shut down its DC program officially in July. But at the last minute, I was blessed with an opportunity to do research for a local state think tank in Oregon during the summer. This gave me the much-needed experience to boost my resume and make me competitive for opportunities for the upcoming fall. But, after UCDC was canceled, I thought my chance of having a unique internship experience was over, yet Dr. Castellano advised me to see my applications through.

Listening to Dr. Castellano’s advice, I moved forward and was accepted into both the American Enterprise Institute and the Charles Koch Institute’s internship programs. And over the past three months, interning for these organizations has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my young career.

Charles Koch Institute

As an intern for the Charles Koch Institute, I participated in meetings with scholars on the topics of education innovation, free speech, immigration, and criminal justice reform. From these meetings, my eyes were opened to the harmful effects poor policy can have on so many Americans.

Accompanying the meetings was programming for each intern on how they would like to attack these policy problems. These courses gave me time to think deeply about what I want to do with my life and whom I want to impact.

The course was extremely uncomfortable at first but soon became one of my favorite facets of the internship. My mentors in this course encouraged me to look at what I am passionate about, and from these talks, I created an outline for my course’s capstone project.

I then met with some of the best innovators in the education sector, where I learned how they are implementing emerging technologies into the classroom to tailor education to each child. Coming from a family full of educators, I found these talks inspiring as I got a glimpse into the future of education. These talks later developed into my capstone project: A podcast focused on innovation in education.

However, the best part for me from my internship with the Charles Koch Institute was overcoming my fear of networking. I am notoriously shy, but early on in the course, a young healthcare policy advisor in the United States Senate talked to my cohort and gave a fascinating talk. One of his pieces of advice included writing more and joining a group called Young Voices. After his talk, I reached out to him. In this conversation, he convinced me to apply to the program, where I was soon accepted.

From overcoming this fear of networking, I have gotten the chance to publish more articles on innovation in education and have received more opportunities to share my thoughts on how we should shape future generations of Americans.

American Enterprise Institute

The other four days of my internship, I was at the American Enterprise Institute, where what I was doing was more traditional compared to my experience at the Charles Koch Institute.

Going into the program, as a remote intern, I was nervous my workload might not be large, but the research assistant from the start was excited I was there and entrusted in me many projects. Some of these projects included editing and publishing articles from the podcast Mr. Pethokoukis (my boss) ran, creating content for the podcast’s Twitter page, small research projects for Mr. Pethokoukis’s upcoming book, and attending multiple intern-scholar meetings to learn about the research they were doing.

These projects were fascinating, but the best past of each week was the Friday team meeting. I later found out many of the interns never met the scholars they interned with and instead communicated mostly with the research assistant over email. Nevertheless, Mr. Pethokoukis, who is extremely busy, found time each Friday to meet with me, discuss the work I was doing, and give me advice.

From these meetings, I developed a good relationship with Mr. Pethokoukis. Our relationship grew his confidence in me, allowing me the chance to work on more critical projects. He even entrusted me with multiple research projects where I developed the podcast questions for our guests.

Overall Takeaways From Being an Intern:

From these unique experiences, I learned I should always try to connect and learn from as many people as possible. There are so many kind people in this world who want me and other students like me to succeed that it is a waste not to learn from their experiences.

I also learned interns should be extremely careful about the times they pick and choose to speak up in conversation. I saw many interns who would either make the mistake of being too quiet during a conversation and hurt their chances to make connections in the long run. I also saw many interns who were much too confident. Sometimes it felt that they did not understand their place or their role in the organization, which turned people off to the idea of helping them.

My final takeaway for future interns is to pay attention in their classes at Boise State. The research skills I have picked up in particular from classes were imperative to my success. On many occasions, the online Albertsons library database was my best friend. Finding journal articles and book pdfs for free online was always one of my scholar’s favorite perks about having an intern, and my ability to find them quickly made my contributions much more valuable.

Boise State’s Influence In DC

Boise State Students looking to work in DC are in an exciting position. From my experience, outside of our legendary blue turf, there is a lack of knowledge about Boise State and Idaho. But the lack of knowledge can be a plus as future students from BSU can be strong representations of our school and what it means to be a Bronco in our nation’s capital. These strong representations can help future students have more opportunities when looking for jobs in DC and develop a more robust pipeline for public policy-oriented students.

Moving forward, I want Boise State ties to run throughout Washington DC, which is why I encourage anyone looking to pursue an internship to do it. These experiences have been worth it, and I look forward to hearing more stories of Broncos pursuing internships in Washington DC.