A day in the life of the Princeton in Washington program

“I’m Type A,” said Chris Umanzor, fingers flicking across his keyboard, alternately checking multiple RSVP lists and composing emails to students who contacted him about upcoming events. “I like to have my ducks in a row.”

For a rising junior charged with organizing more than 70 social events and speaker programs for Princeton students and alumni featuring members of Congress, journalists, community leaders, CEOs and other high-profile guests, this is a good trait to have.

Umanzor, a member of the Class of 2019, was the student coordinator for the Princeton in Washington program (PIW) during the summer of 2017. Sponsored by the Office of Career Services, PIW brings together students, alumni and insiders in the nation’s capital during the summer through speaker and panel discussions, site visits, behind-the-scenes tours and more. In its 52nd year, the program gives participants multiple opportunities to connect with Princetonians and explore diverse career paths. The program is also supported by the Office Government Affairs and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.  

Thursday, July 27 provided a encapsulation of the program featuring a private meeting with a congressperson, an exclusive tour of a Smithsonian museum and an event with White House staffers.

Noon - A meeting with Congresswoman Terri Sewell, U.S. Representative for Alabama's 7th congressional district, Rayburn House Office Building

Staffers hurriedly brought in extra chairs and rearranged furniture in a circle to accommodate the crowd of 17 students, alumni and Congressional interns packed Congresswoman Sewell's office.

Sewell, a member of Princeton's Class of 1986, joined the circle and after a warm welcome asked all the attendees to introduce themselves, share their hometowns and briefly talk about their summer internships and jobs. Sewell recalled with a smile her first summer spent in the capital as an intern, and how she combated the high price tag of living in the D.C. area by spending her nights sleeping on a cousin's couch in Silver Spring, Maryland.

A private meeting with a congresswoman can be an intimidating prospect for anyone. Any anxiety felt by attendees at this afternoon event likely vanished at the first eruption of laughter from Sewell, whose humor and good nature was infectious.

"Congresswoman Sewell is incredibly charismatic," observed rising junior Suren Jamiyanaa, a business development intern at Children's National Health System.

Sewell—who has spent most of her career as an attorney—displayed an interest in public service well before she was elected to House of Representatives in 2010. Sewell worked on the Hill for three summers for then-Congressman Richard Selby, whose 7th district seat Sewell now holds. She credits a run for class government during her time at Princeton as being one of her first brushes with politics, laughing as she recited her campaign slogan that former classmates still recite to her to this day. Throughout the meeting, Sewell stressed the importance of local participation and the value of service.

"I hope you use your talents and skills to help your home, your community," Sewell said. "You don't need to be a senator or Congressperson to help. As my mom says, bloom where you're planted."

She opened the floor to questions, answering student and alumni inquiries about the process of campaigning, how she stays in touch with her constituents, possible entryways into careers in politics and more.

As for the lighthearted nickname from her campaign for freshmen class president that stuck with her among her classmates and friends through her congressional campaign? Well, that's a secret between Congresswoman Sewell and the students and alumni who spent their lunch hour with her.   

4:30 p.m. - A private tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian by Director Kevin Gover

The first floor of the museum was bustling with activity. Museum staff, caterers and event planners were transforming the usually spartan atrium into a celebratory atmosphere for the  kick-off to Kaypi, Perú, a festival celebrating South American nation's cultural heritage.

Kevin Gover, the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, explained to the group of of five Princeton students, alumni and a parent how the museum's outreach and focus extended beyond just native cultures in the United States to those throughout the entire Western Hemisphere.  

The NMAI is currently the largest museum in the world focused on indigenous peoples, a diverse group whose cultures and histories are still widely misunderstood by the vast majority of Americans.

"Usually what they know isn't true," noted Gover, a member of Princeton's Class of 1978, acknowledging that while the subject is broached in schools across America, more often than not the curriculum tends to be more falsehoods than fact.

You can imagine that Gover—whose extraordinary career includes serving as the assistant secretary for Indian affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior under the Clinton administration—may have a syllabus to cover during this tour, a hitlist of unrelenting myths to clear up. Not so much.

"I don't have anything in particular I want [tour participants] to learn," said Gover. "I'm more interested in what they want to get out of it."

This is precisely the approach Gover's tour took. Gover's deep knowledge was obvious as he lead the PIW participants through a private tour of an exhibit entitled Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, but it never veered toward lecture. While Gover led the tour, the conversation was led by the participants.

"Princeton in Washington is really great at exposing all of us to facets of cool things to do in Washington," said Raymond Guo from the Class of 2019. "It's really great that this city has people in every single field, so you can meet people in your own field and also in other fields that interest you, too."

5:30 p.m. - White House Staffer Talk at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Hosted by Reed Cordish, a member of the Class of 1996 and Michael Kratsios, a member of the Class of 2008, the last event of the day was close to the White House, both in proximity and topic.

Approximately thirty students and alumni gathered in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building just west of the White House for a talk on their perspectives from working in the White House. They also outlined the top science and technology priorities of the current administration, a topic Cordish and Kratsios noted has been overlooked in press coverage of the Trump administration. Both hosts serve on Trump's White House Staff; Cordish as an assistant for intragovernmental and technology initiatives, and Kratsios as the deputy chief technology officer.

Other speakers offered advice to students considering pursuing careers in politics in the nation's capital. For interns or recent graduates, pursuing opportunities outside of politics can provide diverse experience that makes one a more valuable candidate when transitioning into politics.

These three events are just a few examples of the broad range of programming throughout the summer—including social events like barbeques, kayaking, ice cream outings and mixers with students from Rutgers, Yale and Harvard—that provide students and alumni unique opportunities to build their networks and explore new paths.