This is a compilation of blog posts current WMI students have written about their experiences while living in DC.

Ankle weights

By Claire Dietz

“We’re gonna throw you in the deep end, with ankle weights.” We were told this on our first day.

They weren’t kidding.

I’m from a suburb, but go to school in Iowa City, Iowa. There I’m used to working for a hyperlocal student paper that regularly runs up against other papers throughout the state and beats them.

I found out very quickly Washington D.C. is nothing like Iowa City, something that would surprise exactly no one.

In Iowa City, I cover arts and culture around the city and the University of Iowa. I also work for a student radio station that covers the same sorts of things the paper does.

Over the past three years I have made a niche for myself consisting of knowing a lot of what happens in Iowa City on a weekend. But in D.C., I was pushed into something entirely different.

Currently, I’m interning at a publication called The Cancer Letter. But this isn’t any old publication. This publication is read by doctors and scientists throughout the industry. It has the power to change the industry with a few articles and has spoken with some of the most powerful names in the cancer world. Also, it helped put Martha Stewart in jail in the mid 2000s.

Talk about being thrown in the deep end with ankle weights on.

On my first day at work I was overwhelmed and terrified I wasn’t fit for this. Maybe this was a joke, or the director of the program had made a mistake. Maybe I had been placed in an internship I would inevitably flop at.

That first week was terrifying, without a doubt.

But I kept on keeping on. I kept working, I kept trying.

Now, we’re at a point where we are at about the halfway mark. It didn’t take long for me to realize how much ankle weights can weigh you down.

But here’s the thing: I’m getting stronger. Each step forward is making me stronger.

Am I exhausted? Absolutely.

Do I want to cry? Totally.

Am I learning? Without a doubt.

Am I being pushed to a breaking point? Oh yeah.

Do I regret all this? Not one bit.

Am I out of my comfort zone? Yes.

Do I think this was a mistake? No.

These past five weeks haven’t been easy. I don’t expect these next five weeks to get easier. But I can feel myself growing.

My brain is thinking differently; all my cares have all but flown out the window. I feel myself pushing myself to try new things. I am forming habits. I am learning Javascript. I’m reading more. I’m doing more things, differently.

When I got thrown in the deep end with these ankle weights, I thought I was going to drown. It certainly seemed that way.

But now, a few weeks later when I look back to where I started, I’m honestly a bit blown away.

My relationship with my own writing and editing has changed significantly, I feel more confident in the things I’m handing to my editor each week. I’m making videos for class, and learning programming on the side.

These haven’t been the easiest few weeks, but I think looking back, they’ve been rewarding in some unexpected ways.

And my ankle weights have changed. The things that could have very well drowned me in my first week in D.C. are now something I can tread water with.

In these first weeks, different things were overwhelming. Making a website with Wix  is now an afterthought. But going to a senate hearing on the National Institute of Health’s 2018 budget is an overwhelming dragon I’m going to slay very soon.

These 10 weeks aren’t easy, but you come back from them changed. You are able to handle things differently. And when you look back, you’ll be shocked to see how far you’ve come.

 

Let’s Metro – Or Not

By Christine Figliozzi

Oh, the Metro. What an unassuming enemy. If growing up in the D.C. metro area has taught me one thing, it’s that the Metro can either be your best friend, or worst enemy. All depending on the day, of course.

More often than not, the Metro is my knight in shining armor. Showing up just in time to whisk me away to wherever I need to be. But, on a rare occasion, the Metro is the cause for my demise.

My first dramatic encounter with the Metro wasn’t even a personal trauma, but rather an eyewitness account of someone else’s. It was during peak hours one evening and I was sitting on a silver line train headed back home after a long day. I was getting my book out and waiting for the doors to close when all of a sudden, I hear a shrill screech. I look up and see a woman flailing half in the train and half still on the platform. Most would assume that the doors would be like elevator doors; when they sense that something is between them preventing them from closing, they open back up. Nope. Not the Metro doors. When they close, they close. Right before the train was about to depart she gets pulled back out onto the platform. I watched her face go from sheer terror to relief as we pulled out of the station. Needless to say, I was shook just from watching this episode.

The second encounter was a personal attack. It may not have been a physical one, but rather an attack on my mental stability and a true test of patience.

It was 6:30 am on a cold winter morning. The Metro had just implemented their Safe Track system and the trains were only running every 20 minutes. I could see the train pulling up as I swiped my card. Sure enough, as soon as I was about to step on the train the doors shut. Still traumatized from watching these doors eat another woman, I stood back and watched them slam shut in front of me. To add insult to injuring, the train sat at the platform for about 10 minutes with the doors shut before it departed.

The next train finally came, so I boarded, took my seat, and began to defrost. Again, the train sat at the platform for 10 minutes before we finally departed. Not long into the journey the train comes to stop, nowhere near the next station. The conductor comes on and makes an inaudible announcement and then the lights go out. We sit in the same spot in the dark for about 15 minutes before the conductor comes back on and makes another inaudible announcement, after which we start moving again, but in the wrong direction. The train begins to head back to the station we had just come from. The platform coming back into sight, I begin to wonder if it’s even worth it to continue all the way to Petworth. Luckily,  the train never went all the way back to the platform, but instead continued forward.

I finally show up to the office an hour late and severely under caffeinated. When I recount the morning’s events to my supervisor, I was met with laughter that brought him to tears. He did feel bad enough for me to buy me a rather large cup of coffee in an attempt to make my day just a little better.

Long story short, when the metro is functioning it can be a great way to get in and around the city, but when it’s having an off day avoid at all costs.

The goal is to report, to inform, and to remain objective

By Alex Segell 

Attorneys arrive in bland and expressionless suits, so passé you wouldn’t be able to remember details even if you tried. They smile at one another candidly, shaking hands or even embracing for a hug. Offering quips here and there, they make small talk and humor each other with light laughter.

In the audience sits a family, and while it’s been years since they lost their loved one, they still wait with solemn faces. They lean forward in moments of a potential breakthrough and dismiss themselves when the evidence becomes too daunting.  When the counsel continuously objects, further delaying long-awaited closure, those who knew the victim roll their eyes, scowl, or even go so far as to throw their hands in the air out of impatience. Some grab the hand of the person sitting next to them, maybe to channel their frustration less obviously or simply out of the need for comfort.

Nobody acknowledges my presence, as I sit in the back row quietly scribbling and slowly shifting in my seat every so often. I am a new set of eyes, an inexperienced observer, and I listen to the intimate details of someone’s last moments on this earth.  I sit near the families, unnoticed, and wait for the same details. The goal is to report, to inform, and to remain objective.  With only a few hearings and a trial under my belt, it has proven difficult to remain objective at times. A mother giving a testimony about the love she had for her daughter, or a father who sits in the audience and wears a jersey bearing the name of his son can easily provoke emotion. I am a fly on the wall while others endure a tragedy that cannot be fixed with a conviction.  

D.C. alone has experienced 49 homicides this year, and counting. That’s 49 families whose entire lives have been flipped on their head in a matter of seconds.  More importantly, that’s 49 deaths that the general public will never know about nor care about. I sit and I scribble for the sake of the family, and for the off chance someone is interested in a death that occurred in a Southeast neighborhood of D.C. I listen to the details so that there is a legible and sincere record of someone’s life and their demise – so that people might pay attention.  But my presence does not change the fate of the victim, or the sorrow of the family, or the process of the trial. I am a third-party outsider, with no connection to anyone who sits in the room, but I involve myself deeply in a way that only I am aware of.  

While it may seem like I am too emotionally unsound to sit through a homicide trial and appreciate it for everything that it is, I mean to say the opposite. It is a surreal experience, to say the least, to listen to such intimate details, to be exposed to lives that I knew nothing of before, and to be there when questions are finally answered.  A family in a murder trial will not notice me, nor will the attorneys, the judge, or law interns who sit more confidently in the front. I am not a significant actor in the eyes of those who are so personally affected by this case, and at times I feel guilty for being there. But the work that is being done by the notes that I take, and by sitting unobserved, holds the possibility of affecting those so personally tied to the case in a way that gets them closer to closure.  

Navigation Skills

By Blake Balfrey    

If my family were to give you one piece of advice about me, it would be to never trust me with directions – ever. Just don’t do it. Until just a few weeks ago, I have lived my life in familiar places all filled with wonderful and resourceful people to help me. Mid-May however, I chose to abandon this familiarity and challenge my navigation skills, or lack thereof, by spending a summer in Washington, DC.

My first test included navigating the city, and let me tell you, it’s not easy. Someone chose to lay this place out in a very “systematic” way – making my life miserable. During WMI boot camp, I seemed to always volunteer to navigate the group efforts to find lunch in our short hour. I managed to make it shorter by leading everyone fifteen minutes off route. I’ve had six ubers and counting cancel on me because we (mutually!) could not locate each other. Now that I’m about four weeks in, I have managed to figure out that yes, the streets are numerical, but bottom line is there is definitely room for improvement.

Below street level, the metro has been an entirely different story. The very first attempt of me getting to my internship included metroing to a stop (I couldn’t tell you which one to save my life), getting on a bus, the wrong one for the matter, transferring to the opposite direction bus and eventually getting into an Uber to Cannon Office House. Other than that, I’ve relied on others to know where we are going and so far, it has worked – shout out to Catherine, even if we get to work 30+ minutes early!

Pretending that I’ve improved my navigating to work, my next learning curve has been in my office building itself. The not-so-secret secret is that there are numerous tunnels under the hill that connects the congressional, senatorial, and Capitol buildings to each other, and let me tell you that is a whole new ball game. There are endless corridors, hallways, elevators, and room numbers. So, without a question I have been getting my 10,000 steps in. The best is that not once, but twice I have taken the senate subway to the Capitol and have found myself on the fourth or fifth floor – apparently having an intern badge gets you in everywhere.  Moral of the story is confidence is key to people not questioning if you’re lost. So, I’ve been familiarizing myself with the lesser known parts of the Capitol building – they’re beautiful by the way; if you can, you should go.

But despite all my mishaps, the most enjoyable part has been learning to navigate DC culture – figuring out how DC operates, learning to guide myself through meeting entirely new people, and being thrown into a new lifestyle. This crazy city is quite the culture shock, especially when you are being led (or more like thrown into the deep end) by Jon, Katey, and Amos. By week four, I have actually managed to understand the complicated, intertwined social scene and interactions, the balance necessary to balance work and class, and most importantly adulting. Overall, there is a learning curve, but if someone is teaching a navigation class, please, please sign me up.

Touring the Capitol

By Jake Mauff 

I was on the Hill the day James Comey testified in front of the Senate. That’s a bit greater description than the story warrants, but it happened nonetheless.

I was told I’d be going to the Capitol before I showed up in DC. My internship hyped me up even more and that continued for a couple weeks. But it didn’t happen right away. That left me waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Then I went to the Capitol.

I went Wednesday to get the credential I needed. I just had to get a badge that day, so the intern who worked the semester before I did (shout out to WMI alumna, Makena!), was kind enough to show me around.

I saw George Washington painted holier than Adam in the Sistine Chapel. There were statues that were so well-crafted you couldn’t discern them from the real thing. There were a lot quirky things that caught my attention; for example, a square man from Hawaii is featured on the House side. Turns out he was a leper and had to wear essentially a box his entire life because of the illness, so he was actually square.

The next day, there was a markup on a bill in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee about commercial space travel. I went back to the Capitol to shadow the experience. There was one person in vocal opposition to the bill, ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson. She had proposed an amendment which would have pretty much reversed everything the bill did. Johnson ended up withdrawing the amendment, so the bill process was entirely effortless to pass afterwards. No one voted “nay” to the bill, even Johnson, so it advanced to the floor.

To top off the entire event, I wore a suit, with vest, all day. Changing out of all that at the end of the day was the best part.

Gender Lens Conference

By Nicole Dan

Despite the large number of women currently getting their degrees in journalism, the field is still largely male. I was grateful for the opportunity to attend the Pulitzer Center’s Gender Lens Conference last week.

Getting to rub elbows with people at the top of their field was an amazing experience. At the Women in Conflict Zones panel I got a sense of what it would be like as a woman reporting in a current or past warzone and the challenges of covering these issues.

Beyond the narrow scope of the classroom, I learned what it was actually like in the field – and how being a woman can be an advantage when it comes to earning the trust of other women. Journalism professors like a to enforce a strict standard of impartiality – which I find impossible to meet. People have opinions, and to dismiss that is almost more suspicious than acknowledging it. At the Diversity Panel, I learned that I wasn’t alone feeling this way and there were others in the field that feel that impartiality can be artificial. One quote by Daniella Zalcman stuck with me – “[Journalism] still looks at the world from a colonial gaze.”

On the second day I came back for a workshop on cyber security – which taught me how to securely communicate with sources through encrypted email and other methods. The most important stories of our day have come as a result of leaks, so it was important to me to learn about this technology.

The Gender Lens Conference was one of those unique DC experiences – having so many powerful people in a room at once.

The Time I Got My Own Seat

By Makena Kelly

A few weeks ago, after I had straggled my way back from the Federal Communications Commission, my editor walked up to me and said, “Welcome back. I have another story for ya’.”

Whenever my editor tells me that I get excited.

He assigned me to cover an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on anti-doping. A little boring—not really in my jurisdiction. I don’t know much about no sports. But, more excitingly so, 28 gold medalist Michael Phelps was going to be testifying.

What?

They’re sending the intern out to do this?

Yep. They sent me.

So, that Tuesday I went to work a little early and did a little pre-write because I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus throughout the entire thing. I studied past legislation. How much money does Congress appropriate to the Olympics? Who are all these people who are not Michael Phelps? How do I turn this into a policy story?

I rolled up to Rayburn House Office Building that Tuesday morning wearing an outfit I was proud of. Who knew if I was going to be on TV?

In the corner of the press section was a little chair with a white piece of printer paper. It said, “Reserved: Makenna Kelly, CQ”. Ok. They spelled my name wrong, but having a reserved seat in a packed house of fanatic Congressmen was pretty cool.

And, the hearing began. It was the standard Chairman and Ranking Member remarks. These Congresspeople didn’t have any specific policy-centered questions prepared—you could tell they had this hearing just so they could meet Phelps. Eh, I don’t blame them.

Leaders from various Olympics and anti-doping organizations spoke and gave sly, grief-ridden remarks to each other out of the corners of their mouths.

Michael Phelps gave his personal testimony. It was pretty standard to say the least, but the press went bonkers. Camera people were all over the place; ESPN, C-SPAN, CNN. You name it, they were crouched on the floor looking for the perfect angle of the most-adorned Olympian of all time.

And throughout all of the hubbub, I had to write my story and have it in before the hearing was over.

There’s something you learn on Capitol Hill after a few months that no one really tells you about. You learn how to stop listening. At some point, you need to be able to close your ears and write, because Congresspeople love to say the same things over and over again.

So, that’s what I did.

And by the end of the story, I realized there was no policy angle. This committee invited Michael Phelps to the Capitol with no plan for legislation. I was angry. They seriously just wanted to have a cool hearing with an Olympian.

Right when I was thinking that, Chairman Murphy adjourned the hearing and the press secretary walked over to my seat and said, “Press availability afterwards.”

So, I threw my computer in my backpack in an angry fit thinking, “I am going to have a clip where I quote Michael Phelps, God damn it!”

And, I rushed to the front of the press pool. The reporters in front of cameras asked questions first—all focused to Phelps. And after a few questions there was a little silence and I blurted out, with ESPN and C-SPAN cameras pointing at me:

“Excuse me, Chairman Murphy, what does Congress plan to do though? What is the next step in enforcing these anti-doping rules?” I asked.

Chairman Murphy said something to the effect of, “Oh, we’ll have another hearing in a few months and see what happens.”

In typical Congressional fashion.

I wrote my story, spoke with my editor, and threw together somewhat of a policy-oriented lede and it was published.

And now, I get to say that the most decorated Olympian in history, Michael Phelps, had to step aside from the limelight so I could be on television over him. Just so I could ask a question to a Congressman.

Good Food, Better Friends

By David Jensen


Coming to D.C. was a big change of scenery for me, and I mean that literally. Growing up in a small town of less than five thousand people where the tallest building is probably the tip of a church steeple, doesn’t exactly prepare you to live on your own in a metropolitan area of over 600 thousand.

However, the size of the city was not what I was most nervous about while pondering what my semester in D.C. would be like. I had maneuvered my way around cities like Chicago and London before, and was fairly comfortable with my ability to do so here. What I was more concerned about was whether or not I would have cool roommates that I could spend time with.

While I knew that I would be extremely busy with my internship, classes, projects, and tours, I also knew there would be plenty of free time to explore the city and didn’t want to do so alone. I also knew that my best shot to make friends would initially be with my roommates. I really wanted to like the guys I would be living with because as anyone who’s ever had roommates knows, they can either make or break an experience.

Fortunately, they turned out to be better than I could’ve ever hoped for. Scott and Zack are both great, and we have plenty of good times together. Whether it’s going out for drinks and dinner on the weekends, exploring new places, or just chilling in our apartment after work farting around or binge watching Game of Thrones, we have a great time. All I was hoping for were people that I could get along with. But what I got, are two guys who I can genuinely say are good friends of mine, which is pretty special after just under two months together.

Something I wasn’t worried about before coming to D.C. but should have been is food. There are way too many good places to eat, and they are all within walking distance of my apartment and office. So of course and soon as I got to the city I was eager to try as many new places as possible (and maybe the fact that I didn’t want to grocery shop or cook played a factor as well…just maybe).

I’ve found that grocery shopping is much more of an inconvenience without a car. When you have to carry all your groceries back with you or pack them in the back seat of an Uber, it discourages you from buying in bulk. So needless to say, the first few weeks here I found out the hard way how quickly and seamlessly a bank account can plummet when you are spending $10 a day on lunch and going out to eat every weekend.

There was one bright spot in my restaurant excursions. Scott, Zack and I found this awesome seafood restaurant just down the street called Hot N Juicy Crawfish and it’s become our go-to favorite place. I even recommended it to my boss and he proceeded to thank me the following week after he went with some friends. I recommended it to everyone in the D.C./Woodley Park area. But the food wouldn’t taste as good if I didn’t have some awesome friends to share it with.
Moral of the story: friends are important, and so is food. Find a happy medium between eating out and grocery shopping, and your bank account will thank you. I also highly recommend Amazon Prime Pantry if you’re already a member. It’s clutch.

Now I Know How to Make Copies

By Madi Bowers

So, it’s not only a copier, apparently, it’s a copier/printer/scanner. 

My direct supervisor at work, A, asked me to make copies of 43 pages of important business documents. She said the copier is self explanatory and just to be sure that I kept everything in the same order as she had given it to me. Easy enough. I seriously thought it would be a simple task to get me away from the computer and spreadsheets I had been working on for the past 2 weeks at my internship. So, of course, I happily carried the paper pile down to the copy room in the back of our office space.

The room is typical, with cabinets and boxes of files and bins of markers and pens surrounding a huge grey machine, complete with ceiling lights that are motion-sensor. After waving my arms around like a lunatic trying to get the lights to turn on for a minute or so, I casually strolled up to the copier machine and put my pile on the open space where printed documents come out.

I clicked, “Copier,” on the touch screen (high-tech but slower to respond than I was as a teenager being asked to do chores) and was immediately confused when it asked for the code. What kind of copier requires a password?! I’m not trying to get into a frat party or use meal swipes, I’m just trying not to screw up the simplest task I’ve been assigned.

Accepting defeat, I asked another intern how to use the copier, to which she quickly laughed and replied, “Good luck.” I thought I would have to admit to my supervisor that I, a tech-wiz millennial, capable of creating and sending documents on my phone in seconds, had never learned how to use office machines.

This is when the hero of the story, K, walks in and without a word, points to a paper directly above the copier that says, “How to use the copier.” I’m sure I turned a shade of red unknown to even the depths of the universe because she giggled, told me it would just take some time, and left me with my pile.

As it turns out, the password is 888 (I feel like you can have this information because it’s posted on the wall above the machine anyways). After you click those magic numbers, the copy screen loads, displaying 3 different sizes of paper, 2 preset options, and a variety of scary looking “Settings” options on the side of the screen.

Applying my recently acquired knowledge of acceptable resources, I looked up at the paper on the wall for it to tell me how to finish this task already. I clicked 2, for the 2 copies I needed of everything, placed my first of 43 pages on the copy/scan screen, closed the top, clicked Start, and was not even surprised to hear the machine scream at me in a high-pitched and monotone sound. At this point, I was so embarrassed and defeated that I didn’t care when K came through the door and began fixing my mistake before I could even get a word out.

To my surprise (and a smidge of delight), K didn’t know what the problem was either! Until she opened the top, of course, and saw that I hadn’t placed a piece of 8.5″ by 11″ paper over my much smaller paper so the scanner could detect it. I gave a sincere thank you, she left, and I continued on.

I am happy to report that I finished the adventure on my own, without misplacing a paper, forgetting a step, or stapling the finished documents incorrectly. Now, I’m not saying you should call me if you have copy room problems of your own at work, but I know a thing or two about how to read “How to” instructions. I have even learned how to print and scan! The point is, although it took at least a half hour longer than it should have, this millennial learned how to use an old-timey copier machine with a touch screen from those children’s iPads.

I feel pretty confident now in my copy room knowledge, as I can copy/print/scan anything on my own and in a timely fashion.

But this is only for the black and white machine. The color printer is another monster entirely.

Life as a DC Student in WMI

By Merdie Nzanga

It was April 4, 2014 – the day I received my acceptance letter to American University. Oh yay me! I’m going to Washington, DC! Here I was leaving my home in Seattle, WA and going all the way across the nation’s capital. Although I later left AU, I transferred to Howard University (also in DC) because I still loved living in DC.

Living in Washington, DC is so special to me because it is our country’s capital. It is so historically and culturally rich, and there are so many sights to see – from museums to national monuments, to restaurants!

While I’ve lived here, I’ve also had the chance to visit the Newseum several times.  The Newseum is a large, interactive museum that focuses on journalism and the media in our understanding of historical events, located right in the middle of the city. Every time I visit this museum it gets me excited about journalism.  My favorite place at the Newseum is the Vietnam War coverage presentation – the first televised war. It is amazing to me how much of an influence  Americans had on the war just by watching it on their television screens.

Because I could have a new experience and stay in DC for the semester, I decided to attend the Washington Media Institute. My experience at the Washington Media Institute has made my experience in DC even better. This semester I am interning at DC Witness where we track homicides in DC and write about them. I go to court everyday, and then I come back to our office and get to write . I like this internship because it has been helping my writing. During class, Amos, the director, and Jon, the associate director, give individual feedback to each student on their work. I’m being pushed more professionally than I ever have and it’s all thanks to WMI!

If you haven’t had a chance to visit DC, please come!