by Brian Quintana
Editor's Introduction: Brian Quintana recently graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in Political Science, and he is a longtime member of the NFB. He has participated in congressional internship programs on both a state and national level. In this article, Brian shares his experience as an intern in Washington D.C. Brian illustrates how preparedness and a willingness to challenge one's own boundaries can lead to a rewarding experience. Here is what he has to say.
I have always been a person to schedule my summer plans far in advance. As one summer ends, I start making plans for the next summer. I tell myself that I am going to try something crazy and exciting for next summer, but I always play it safe. For summer 2002, I planned on taking classes and getting a job. I know, I know, not exactly fun summertime activities, but these are things to occupy my time and keep me out of trouble. I soon realized that planning ahead was not advantageous for me; I might just have some fun if I break the rules.
In February, while preparing for the Washington Seminar, I was energized by the thought of visiting our fine capitol. In the months before the seminar, I interned at the district office of a member of the United States House of Representatives. It was a great experience that encouraged me to apply my newly gained knowledge of politics. While at the Washington seminar, walking from Hart to Cannon to the Dirksen cafeteria, I continuously ran into college-age interns. I admired what they were doing in Washington, and I wondered if I had what it would take to intern in our nation’s capitol. With a little encouragement and a little research, I found a summer internship that seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. The internship was a five-week program with Senator Bingaman from New Mexico, my home state. When I sat down to fill out the application, I thought about which three people I would ask for letters of recommendation. I would ask one of my political science professors, and of course the district director at the Congresswoman’s office, my supervisor, and then I thought of Art Schriber, President of the NFB of New Mexico. Now, everything was ready and I mailed the application off to Senator Bingaman’s office.
Before I knew it, I received a call from the intern coordinator, informing me that I was selected to participate in the summer internship program. At this point, I must admit, I began experiencing anxiety about the internship. I would be across the country for five weeks, living on the George Washington University campus, with twelve other interns, in a city where the fast-paced life will either make you or break you. After making the trek to the east coast, it seemed at first as though it would be a long five weeks. During the first day, I heard, “Would you like me to do this,” and, “Can I help you do that,” by staff and my fellow interns in the office. However, it wasn't long before my anxieties vanished and I stopped thinking of myself as the blind intern, but as simply just another one of the interns. It did not take long before the others felt the same way.
Among all my duties and responsibilities as an intern, I researched various topics, wrote constituent letters, and yes, gave the dreaded tours of the capital for visiting constituents. I had been in the Capitol enough times to know the general layout, but I still worried about how to successfully take people on a tour. During the first week, one of the office staff provided us with a tour, so that we would know where to take visitors and know some general things to point out along the way. In the meantime, I studied and studied the website of the Capitol, complete with the history, dates, names, architects, artwork, etc. By the end of the first week, I knew as well as the other interns that I could give the tour with few if any problems. Then, it seemed the other students took notice of my attention to and retention of details because the intern coordinator approached me, and told me that he had gone to all the interns, telling them that they could take a buddy with them on their tour days and that they all replied, “Can Brian come with me?” Needless to say, I went on almost all of the tours, at least one per day and one of those tours happened to be for the wife, sister-in-law, niece, and daughter of long-time member and leader of the NFB, Mr. Fred Schroeder.
In addition to our intern responsibilities, the office kept us busy with multiple tours of D.C. sites. These included the FBI, the Pentagon, Washington Post, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. We also attended a college Democrats gathering outside the Capitol with Martin Sheen as the special guest, a taping of a show for National Geographic, and a live taping of the CNN show, “Crossfire.”
Near the end of the internship, I had the opportunity to attend the subcommittee hearing on the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act, at the time called, S. 2246. We in the NFB know that this is important legislation that needs to be passed as soon as possible, so that blind students will have equal access to print textbooks as their sighted peers. From my experience at the Senator’s office, I now have a better understanding of the necessity of writing and calling our elected officials, in order to express our views on important legislation, which in turn often aids in expediting the passage of that legislation. I urge everyone who reads this article to contact there elected officials at home and on Capitol Hill, regarding such legislation as the IMAA, so that we may be that much closer to getting it enacted.
On the plane back to Albuquerque, I reflected upon all of the great things that occurred during my internship in D.C. It proved to be an incredible opportunity and worthwhile experience that made an impact on my attitude and the attitudes of those around me. I realized that it isn’t so difficult to change attitudes about blindness and that each person can do his or her part in educating others about the capabilities of the blind.
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