PAAIA CHIP Fellow Reflects on Her Experience on Capitol Hill

By: Parnia Zahedi

January 8, 2014, Washington, D.C. – Throughout the past few months, I have had one of the most valuable experiences any undergraduate student in D.C. can have– the opportunity to intern on Capitol Hill. I spent my time as an intern for the office of Congressman Gerry Connolly, the Representative for Virginia’s 11th Congressional District. The support I received from PAAIA, its Capitol Hill Internship Program (CHIP), and Roshanak Ameli-Tehrani played an essential role in helping me take the first steps towards pursuing my political aspirations.

From the crisis in Syria to a 16-day government shutdown, the fall of 2013 proved to be an exciting time to be on the Hill. On my first day in the office, I found myself sitting 10 feet behind Secretary of State John Kerry testifying during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Syria; a few days later, Congressman Connolly made an effort to meet with the interns one-on-one to give us an inside perspective into the life of a representative and the important decisions one faces when serving his or her country. These opportunities–and many others– gave me a firsthand look at our nation’s legislative and political process.

Alongside attending congressional hearings and drafting memorandums for the legislative staff, one of my main responsibilities was serving the needs of our constituents. Congressional interns serve as a point of contact between Representatives and their constituents, responding to the latter’s inquiries and passing along their opinions on various legislative issues. In this role, I researched a variety of legislative areas in order to respond to their needs, even having the opportunity to draft constituent letters on key issues. These duties expanded my knowledge of a range of political issues, but the greater lessons came from seeing how Congressman Connolly and his staff take the opinions of constituents into consideration while making important decisions–decisions that greatly impact people’s everyday lives.

As a young Iranian American aspiring to enter the political world, this was the greatest lesson I could have learned. Witnessing how legislation moves from beginning to end, I realized how many individuals play a role in this process– from the work of the members of Congress and their staff to the organizations and individuals voicing their opinions. A great amount of effort is made to serve the diverse interests of the public. Gaining this understanding has given me a greater appreciation for the legislative branch and bolstered my ambition to live a life of public service.

It has been a true honor to have the opportunity to work in Congressman Connolly’s office. Having PAAIA’s support along the way enriched this incredible experience, and I truly appreciate how lucky I am for the lessons I have learned and the connections I have made. Alongside my time on the Hill, CHIP and PAAIA NexGen have introduced me to a number of hard-working Iranian Americans in the public sector who have shared their experiences and words of wisdom for how to enter the political world. After receiving their advice, I can only hope to follow in their footsteps, and then one day share my own advice with young Iranian-Americans aspiring to make a difference, sitting in the same shoes I am now.

Click here to learn more about PAAIA’s Capitol Hill Internship Program.

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