By Patrick Miller
In January of 2020, I had my career trajectory all planned out. I was finishing my Bachelor’s in Political Science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and had accepted a summer internship with a Senate office. I was also turning my focus to applying for graduate schools to start in the fall. It finally felt, after a few long years of wandering aimlessly, that I had it “figured out.”
Fast forward to April and things had taken a drastic turn, as we all can remember. The COVID-19 pandemic forced courses to become remote, Capitol Hill was either cancelling internships for the summer, or shifting them to also be virtual experiences and no one knew what the summer or fall meant for academic coursework. So, I spent the summer working remotely for Student Veterans of America as a policy intern, assisting with COVID-19 response efforts to help protect GI Bill users and supporting where I could with research in the office.
Fast forward a year into the pandemic. In January of 2021 a work friend suggested I apply for HillVets, as she personally knew someone who had been in the program and felt it was extremely rewarding. On what could be described as a whim, I applied, with a glimmer of hope that this could resurrect my hopes of going to grad school and finally working on the Hill. Even applying for HillVets reignited my ambition that had been quiet since COVID had shut it all down with quarantines, social distancing, and teleworking. I started hunting for a grad program I would want to participate in, and applying to programs in D.C. And low and behold, in late February I got the email that said I had been accepted into the HillVets House Fellowship Program!
Once again, the trajectory of my life completely shifted. Suddenly I had to work on strengthening my resume, crafting writing samples and emailing offices to build relationships for a potential placement as a fellow. I had to learn a new skillset for contacting offices, interviewing, and asking for a placement in their office. Then George Washington University accepted me into a Political Management Master’s program, and planning for grad school had to start in earnest. I had to get my life packed up and ready to move on short notice and plan two trips across the country in less than a month; one for my best friend’s commission into the United States Air Force in Oregon, and the other for the big move to D.C. to start the HillVets program. To say it was a stressful month would be an understatement.
At the beginning of April, I made the move, driving from Omaha to D.C. over the course of three days. I unloaded all my stuff in D.C. and moved into the HillVets house. I was able to meet Jena and Betty, who run the programs and house. I met the other House fellows over a week or two, and I started working in Congresswoman Susan Wild’s office.
Now it’s almost June 2021, and it feels like we’re rounding the corner of COVID-19, as millions of Americans are vaccinated or are getting vaccinated. The weather is getting hot again, and restrictions are starting to lift across the country. What’s just as great or even better, is the fact that I’m doing work I love again, in a city I’ve been trying to get to for years, and accomplishing my personal, professional, and academic goals. It feels like I have it “figured out” again.
HillVets has really helped me get back on track, whether it was intentional or not. I was feeling lost and aimless at my last job, with no idea at how I’d get back on my planned trajectory that a year before felt as solid as stone. Within a few months though, that all changed and with it my life, demeanor, and ambition. There’s now a new trajectory for me. I’m learning the core skills necessary to become a legislative assistant, the abilities that will make me competitive for a career on Capitol Hill. HillVets will also give me the network and additional skills to make sure I meet the best people to help me look and find a job when I’ve accumulated enough skills here on the Hill. The end goal with this House Fellowship with HillVets is to be a staffer on a committee, working to make the greatest impact possible and work on substantive legislative policy.