Image Credits: Audrey Henson
This summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend nine weeks living and working in Washington D.C., all thanks to a program called College to Congress. This program creates pathways for Pell Grant eligible students to intern in Congress who could not otherwise afford to do so.
Let’s face it, living in D.C. is expensive, and managing to afford to live there, even for a short period of time, can be incredibly difficult if you are working an unpaid internship. College to Congress, or C2C, is working to help bridge that gap. The organization provides opportunities for students from all over the country to gain invaluable experience by working on the Hill.
C2C is a nonpartisan organization, and this summer I was one of thirteen students from all different backgrounds, institutions, and political ideologies who came together in D.C. to work, and to learn. The Founder and CEO of College to Congress, Audrey Henson, has a similar story to the thirteen of us. She struggled to be able to afford to live and work in D.C. for a summer, even having to take out additional loans to do so. Being a principled young Republican woman, she took the initiative to create a program to create opportunities for other young people like her. She did not want other young adults to have to struggle in the same way she did. Thus, College to Congress was created. During my summer in D.C., I have gotten to spend time with Audrey, and the rest of the C2C staff, and learn more about her journey to being a female entrepreneur in a city that is all about who you know, and where you come from. She was kind enough to sit down with me and answer some questions about her journey.
As a Republican, how do your political beliefs influence your motivations in creating and implementing the message of College to Congress and how has your party identification altered your perspective in creating C2C?
The biggest influence has been the old adage, “it is better to teach a man to fish as opposed to simply providing the fish.” C2C is not just a scholarship program, we teach our interns every step along the way. Before stipends are distributed, all interns go through an intensive budget training, so we can teach our interns to spend their money wisely. A central component of this program is a focus on soft skills such as financial literacy, and C2C tries to instill in its interns this set of skills that are not often taught in school. I believe in the philosophy of empowering others, and with opportunity, they can go and do with it what they want. Building and creating a solid foundation is so important in politics, and these are skills that can’t be learned in school or read in books. Another major component of politics is your personal brand, and we place a lot of emphasis on that at College to Congress. Growing up with a conservative mindset has made me extremely frugal with money and how it is spent, and that naturally bleeds into the program and how we allocate money and spend to create more opportunities for students who are part of C2C.
Being a Republican certainly hasn’t held me back in the inception of the program. The space of “good government” has largely been dominated by Democrats, and the creation of this program has shattered some preconceived notions of how diversity can be brought to Capitol Hill. Part of this program is luck, part of it is hard work, and part of it is God, and it is just time for a program like this. Those on both sides of the aisle are excited that someone finally created a program that addresses these issues. We place a lot of emphasis on owning your story here at College to Congress, and the creation of this program is me owning my story.
Do you have any advice for other young, female entrepreneurs that want to try something new and make change in their own way?
For people that are already entrepreneurs that want to make change, something I didn’t learn until I was already in the creation of the program to ask the people who you think need change if they even want it. It wasn’t until the interns arrived in D.C. last summer and I was having conversations with them, did I realize that there was a disparity between what I believed they needed versus what they actually needed. My advice would be to allow the groups of people you are trying to help tell you what they need and build success that way. Different demographics and different age groups approach problems differently, and that all factors into helping people in a unique way.
What do you see in other young women that are trying to create their own story or brand that you’ve found doesn’t work?
Something I see in younger generations of women is that there is a difference between young female interns and older women who have been elected to office is the ability to speak up for oneself in the workplace. Women nowadays sometimes overcompensate and that can take away from their ability to do a good job in their work. There is something to be said of having poise, and understanding the nuances of situations in your environment, and still being respectful. Being outspoken and bold is good, as long as you’re not turning off those around you. If you don’t have influence, what do you have? People like people who are easy to work with. The pendulum always swings both ways, and right now we are in a period of one extreme. Everyone still has to put in their time, and I’ve seen some young women struggle with wanting to stand up for themselves, but then also not understanding basic work duties and responsibilities.