President Barack Obama talks with interns from the 2012 Summer Internship Program in the East Room of the White House. Samantha Fay '14 is fourth from left, front row.
Inside the Obama Administration
For the summer after her freshman year at Haverford, Samantha Fay ’14 landed an internship at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. Her time there yielded all sorts of new experiences and one certainty: She wanted to go back to the capital and learn more.
Fay got her chance this past summer when she was selected as a White House intern. “I wanted the fullest picture of government I could get,” says Fay. “And what better experience could there be than working in the White House? I am a huge fan of the President, his policies and his vision. And right before the election was a great time to be there.”
A political science major from Ohio, Fay was one of just 145 young people from across the country chosen for the highly competitive, hands-on program, which aims to mentor and cultivate young leaders and prepare them for careers in public service. She spent the summer working in the Office of Cabinet Affairs, which is located in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the West Wing. “Cabinet Affairs is the primary liaison between the 22 federal agencies,” she says. “The most important function of the office is to make sure the White House and the agencies are synched up, so that the Obama Administration speaks with one voice.”
Among her primary responsibilities was scheduling White House tours for federal employees at the different agencies. She also helped edit weekly subject-specific reports intended to keep the White House staff updated on the agencies’ work, and had the opportunity to escort high-ranking members of the government, such as cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries and chiefs of staff, throughout the Eisenhower Building. “Meeting the President was obviously a highlight of the summer, and so was meeting the First Lady and the Vice President,” Fay says. Also memorable was the day she encountered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arriving for a cabinet meeting.
Another high point, Fay says, was the day the Affordable Care Act was upheld by the Supreme Court. “I think it was very validating for a lot of the people who had worked for two-plus years to make this happen for millions of people— to know that their work was not in vain,” she says. “It was very uplifting to be in their midst.”
Besides offering an inside look at how government works, the White House Internship Program also helped Fay learn a valuable lesson about her own perfectionist tendencies. “I went in wanting to be perfect at everything, which wasn’t possible,” she says. “But I eventually got to a point where I realized that my work product was good enough. Sometimes, when you are on a deadline, the work just needs to be done."
With long hours spent at the office, the intense pace of the internship was stressful at times, Fay says. “That's because you realize the magnitude of the work that you are doing. At the same time, it was exciting to work at that pace and that level. Everything you did felt very fulfilling."
“I was surprised and impressed by how team-oriented everyone was, and how committed everyone was to the organization mission. It was not about individuals. It was about the administration as a whole wanting to make people's lives better. That was really inspiring. Everyone was very humble—even the most senior staff.”
Fay, who got that first Washington internship through her godmother, Haverford alumna Beverly Ortega Babers ’84, came away from her White House summer with a new idea about her career direction. “I came to the conclusion that I’m going to law school,” she says. “Both of my parents are attorneys, and after being in Washington and seeing how many people have a law degree, and the wide range of things you can do with one, I decided that’s what I need to do.”