Hill Climbers: A Passion for Government Started With a Class

Posted September 14, 2010 at 5:34pm

For some staffers, working for a Congressional office is like being recruited to a fraternity or sorority: You interview with several organizations, you’re familiar with their reputation and, in the end, you get to join a group of like-minded individuals who make a big place feel a little more like home.

“It was helpful joining a sorority and going through the recruitment process because you get used to that sort of interaction,” said Emily Benavides, 25, who was hired by Rep. Robert Aderholt in August. “When you’re meeting with new employers, you use the same things, like body language and social skills. And you can get a good feel for the office before you even start.”

The College of William and Mary alumna owes her gig as a legislative correspondent for the Alabama Republican to more than just her interview skills; her original interest in government was piqued by a class she took with a fellow Delta Gamma.

“I only took an introduction to government class because one of my sorority sisters convinced me to take it with her,” Benavides said. “And I guess I haven’t really looked back since.”

Benavides, an Ohio native, decided to pursue a summer internship in 2006 with the Embassy of Colombia, where she used her Spanish fluency to translate a website for its nonprofit organization. Her experience living in the dorms and exploring Washington fostered her love for the city, she said.

“I had never really done anything like that before. I had gone from a small town in Ohio to a small town in Virginia,” Benavides said. “But after spending a summer here, I was hooked on urban life.”

After graduation in 2007, the government major dabbled in the legal field for a year and worked as a legal assistant for the law firm of Paley Rothman. Realizing that she was more interested in politics than law, however, she decided to forgo law school for a master’s degree in government at Johns Hopkins University.

“The program is tailored for people who work on the Hill and in government relations,” said Benavides, who focuses on political communications.

During the first year of her master’s program, Benavides kept busy by fulfilling back-to-back internships with GOP Reps. Bob Latta (Ohio) and Randy Forbes (Va.).

“My first internship was with Congressman Latta, whose district is actually my home district in Ohio,” Benavides said. “It was really great to see how things affected my personal community. I was able to see Congress in a real, functional way.”

Benavides moved to a different office in the spring of 2009. Working for her new boss, she noticed differences in the operational side of things but noted that they were all driven by the constituency.

In the summer of 2009, Benavides took a position with National Geographic, working as a marketing database assistant. Although she gained valuable experience managing the databases for a year, she felt that Capitol Hill was “calling her name.”

Benavides answered her calling when she took on the legislative correspondent duties with Aderholt in August. Since she started, Benavides has pounced on every opportunity to soak up Washington neighborhoods. One of her favorite pastimes is driving around the area with friends to visit historical monuments and sites.

“The most recent one we went to was not too far away in Virginia. It just looked like a ruined mill that had been around for a really long time, but then you found out how it actually played a big role in the civil war,” Benavides said. “And to think, here it is, only a stone’s throw away from D.C.”

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