Semi-virtual learning goes to Washington

Even though most internships are virtual, the staff at Wake Washington looks to provide an enriching experience



Wake Washington students will represent the college at various D.C. organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Defense.

Julia Ochsenhirt, Staff Writer

Despite the ongoing pandemic, the staff at Wake Washington looks to provide students with great professional experience and networking opportunities.

Wake Washington is a semester-long program in which students partake in internships in Washington, D.C. while taking two Wake Forest-sponsored classes. Among other organizations, students this semester are working with the Pentagon, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Asia Institute. Participants find internships independently, allowing them to tailor the program to their professional interests.

Junior Sebastiano Tibolla is interning for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the international affairs division.

“I applied to 25 places, and was lucky to have multiple offers,” Tibolla said. “I chose my internship because of the international aspect. I’ve always been interested in international affairs and diplomacy.”

Due to the pandemic, most internships will be online. To mimic a traditional work environment, online interns have their own offices in the Wake Washington Center.

“Part of the experience is showing students what a commute is like, and what it’s like to work in an office every day,” said Jennifer Richwine, the director of the Wake Washington Center. “We still want them to have that.”

Junior Hannah Griggs is one of two students with an in-person internship. She will be interning for the Department of Defense doing legislative affairs work. Griggs was drawn to her internship because of her interest in homeland security issues as well as the in-person component.

“Being able to really speak with people, even if you’re masked up, and read their body language is a lot different than talking over Zoom,” she said.

In the fall semester, program organizers grappled with a lack of student interest. Only 5 students signed up, compared to the typical 16.

“A lot of students didn’t want to do virtual internships, and we knew that’d be all we could do,” Richwine said.

Traditionally, students attend in-person classes with a Wake Forest professor two days a week. In the fall, program organizers decided not to invite a professor to teach. Instead, participants took virtual classes alongside students living on the Reynolda Campus.

The spring saw renewed interest in the program, with fourteen students signing up. Dr. Wei-Chin Lee will teach in-person courses and, if possible, take students to key sites like the Supreme Court building and the headquarters of the World Bank.

Wake Washington also provides enriching networking opportunities. Students meet weekly with assigned mentors, Wake Forest graduates working in their fields of interest, and have opportunities to connect with other alumni living in D.C.

“We’ve been grateful to have many alumni agree to meet students for coffee outdoors or go on walks with students,” Richwine said.

Despite the strange circumstances, students are optimistic and excited about the semester. Griggs is looking forward to the independence of living in Washington.

“We’ll grocery shop and cook for ourselves, so it’ll be a little like real adult life,” Griggs explained. “It’s nice to have that taste while still being around friends.”

Junior Carol Arkalji, who is interning for the Brazil Institute of the Warren Wilson Center, is looking forward to working with an organization she is passionate about and to which she has a close personal connection.

“I’m from Brazil, and the other interns are Brazilian as well, so it’ll be a little like home,” she said. “Also, the Wilson Center just does such inspiring work. I’m really excited.”

Wake Washington can be difficult, with students juggling full-time internships and classes. However, for students interested in politics, it is an incomparable opportunity.

“Many students tell us it’s the hardest semester they take [at Wake Forest], but also the most rewarding,” Richwine said. “If someone is willing to come and put in the work, they’ll thrive here.”