Sinthia Shabnam, a graduate student in public administration, learned about the dynamics of federal politics as an intern at Representative Ilhan Omar’s Minnesota office over the summer.
Shabnam said she was excited to gain experience under Omar.
“I always saw myself as someone who would either be in the policy-making business or someone who would one day run for office,” Shabnam said. “It’s definitely something I’m interested in, so I think there’s a better way than working with someone who’s an elected official? And specifically, for me, it was really important to be able to work for the first Muslim woman in Congress, as well as the first Muslim woman who wears the hijab in Congress. And she’s also black and a woman of color, and she’s also a refugee and an immigrant. She wears so many of these diapers and diapers background that I think his experience is really unique.
Shabnam was placed in her boarding school thanks to the Islamic Scholarship Fund, an organization that aims to increase American Muslim representation in government, media and film. Shabnam said she is grateful to this organization for providing internship opportunities to students who might not otherwise have had them.
“It’s really hard to land [congressional] internships for people from diverse backgrounds because you have to be able to afford to live in DC and do it, which eliminates a lot of opportunities for black people, brown people, people of color, people from low-income backgrounds income or people who don’t have political connections because you have to start by figuring out how to live there with lower paying internships,” Shabnam said. “It’s really great to know that there are organizations that place students from diverse backgrounds, like the Congressional Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Women’s Caucus, Progressive Caucus… I think it’s really good that people know that there are opportunities and windows of opportunity for you in systems that you might think you could never get into.
Steven Greene, a professor of political science, said a congressional internship allows students to experience the demands of a career in politics.
“It sounds pretty exciting, and maybe even glamorous, to a lot of people until they actually start working in politics and say, ‘Oh, maybe this isn’t for me,'” he said. said Greene. “Of course, for the others, it is. President Biden’s current deputy press secretary [Andrew Bates] was one of our [political science] majors from, gosh, I think 15 years ago. And so obviously it worked for him, and he decided he loved working in politics.
Previously, Shabnam worked as an intern for Cheri Beasley, the first African American woman to serve as Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Rep. Gale Adcock, who represents District 41 in the House of Representatives. from North Carolina. Shabnam said she was eager to learn more about policymaking at the federal level and observe national politics at the core; during Shabnam’s internship, she witnessed the response to the overthrow of Roe v. Wade.
“It was very surreal, no matter what people think about this issue, it was very surreal to be there during this peak political moment because it wasn’t just us watching something happen at the television, it was something that happened in real life,” Shabnam said. “It was just very interesting to see how the change in policy can actually be immediate.”
According to Shabnam, his main responsibilities included writing letters, answering phone calls from constituents, and writing memos and policy briefs. Shabnam said her education at NC State helped her succeed on Capitol Hill.
“I found that a lot of the things I had learned in my MPA classes, I found that I was able to use those skills in the office,” Shabnam said. “And I think that really showed – I already knew how to write memoirs, I already knew how to write memos.
Shabnam said reading Omar’s mail gave insight into the abundance of negative attention elected officials are receiving.
“In MP Omar’s office, she gets a lot of hate, and a lot of hate targeted around her identity and where she comes from, which I think for me as a brown Muslim woman is something really intense to see, but I think it’s was also very valuable for me to see,” Shabnam said. “This is what a career in this looks like for someone like you… I think it’s a really good experience for people who want to run for office in the future, because it really shows you, that’s what you’re getting yourself into.
Shabnam works full time as a field organizer for power change, a grassroots organization focused on Muslim American advocacy for issues of racial, economic, and social justice. Shabnam said working in Congress helped her understand how to effectively advocate for change.
“Seeing how grassroots organizations of all kinds interact with Congress has been a very beneficial skill for me to learn,” Shabnam said. “I was able to see which aspects of the basic organization are effective and which aspects are not. And I’ve noticed, for example, that phone calls are really effective because they’re always answered, and if you’re a voter, they’re recorded.
Shabnam said one of the highlights of her experience was working with a diverse group of people.
“Most offices are very, very white, including their interns, including their staff,” Shabnam said. “It’s incredibly common, whether Republican or Democrat, but in my office it was so diverse… And what I loved so much about my office is that I have to come to work and not have to pretend to be whitewashed in no way, shape or form – I could just be me, and that was totally okay. And I love it so much. And I really hope that in the future we can see government spaces as diverse as my office, because that’s what America looks like.
Greene said a political internship is ultimately an act of kindness.
“It’s really public service,” Greene said. “I don’t think people think about it enough, they say, ‘It’s politics and everybody’s fighting’, but even if they’re fighting, they’re fighting for what they think is best for our state or our country and try to make a difference. I think it’s important and great to be a part of it.
When asked if she had a favorite memory from her internship, Shabnam said she couldn’t choose just one.
“I mean, honestly, every single day of this experience has stuck with me,” Shabnam said. “It was just very surreal. I am very grateful to have had the experience. I hope that more students who are interested in the Hill will try to have an experience on the Hill as soon as they can because that you learn so much.