An Iranian American Experience on Capitol Hill

By: Darien Salehy

December 14, 2012, Washington D.C. – I am the proud recipient of the 2012 Fall PAAIA CHIP Fellowship. Through PAAIA’s Capitol Hill Internship Program, I have learned how Congress operates, and in the process, I’ve gained invaluable experience and met wonderful people. Thanks to Dr. Akbar Ghahary’s sponsorship, Iranian Americans can become more involved and informed about the inner workings of our legislative process.

Since September of this year, I have been interning in the office of Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), working closely with both the press and legislative teams.  On the press team, I have helped draft newsletters, blog posts, and social media posts. Our press team collaborates with our regional offices in Colorado to ensure that the senator’s messages and goals are accurately represented in both Colorado and Washington, D.C.  Through my work with the press team, I have learned how the senator communicates with constituents and uses the media to determine their needs.

Working closely with the legislative team, I have learned how legislation affects constituents. I have researched healthcare and education issues in order to comprehensively respond to constituents’ questions and inquiries. Through this process I have learned firsthand how Senator Udall addresses and advocates for his constituents’ needs.

In addition to my work in the senator’s office, I have attended briefings and receptions on a weekly basis. At these events, members of Congress collaborate with government agencies, NGOs, and the private sector to discuss the needs of constituents and how those needs can be addressed through legislation. Being present at these events has given me the opportunity to learn how bills are created and passed.

A Capitol Hill internship is a great experience for any college student, as it provides firsthand knowledge on how our legislative and political system works.  For those who wish to find employment on the Hill, an internship is priceless. Like other competitive fields, it is difficult to secure a position in the Senate or the House of Representatives.  An internship is the first step towards finding employment, not only because of the experience it provides, but also because of the networking opportunities it offers. Towards this end, PAAIA CHIP is unique as it offers opportunities to network with and be mentored by Iranian Americans who work in government.  PAAIA has introduced me to several very successful current and former Hill staffers.  They include senior policy staff for members of the U.S. Senate, a special assistant and legislative aide to a member of Congress, and a former legislative director who took his experience on Capitol Hill and transformed it to a career lobbying on IT and high tech issues.  They have become my friends and mentors, teaching me the ins and outs of how things operate in our nation’s capital. 

Working in Senator Udall’s office is by far the most enjoyable job I have ever held. If you are interested in public policy or government, I strongly encourage you to apply for the PAAIA CHIP Fellowship.

I am incredibly thankful to PAAIA and Dr. Ghahary for giving me the honor of receiving the fall CHIP Fellowship. I have not only gained invaluable experience, but through PAAIA’s support I have also met other Iranian Americans with whom I share interests. In addition to the CHIP fellowship, PAAIA has  given me the opportunity to be a part of their NexGen and Mentorship Programs, which have been incredible opportunities. I have met so many incredibly smart and driven Iranian Americans through the monthly NexGen meetings in Washington, D.C.

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