By Clara Turnage
University of Mississippi
University of Mississippi sophomore Camron Cross is learning the ropes of politics in the nation’s capital firsthand this semester as he lives, works and studies in Washington, D.C., as part of The Fund for American Studies program.
Cross, an economics major from Huntsville, Alabama, was selected for the Capital Semester Program with The Fund for American Studies, or TFAS, a 501(c)3 educational nonprofit that helps students make connections and learn about government.
“TFAS has given me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life,” Cross said. “It provides a new challenge, especially having grown up in the South. New cultures, new experiences – it is a step out of your comfort zone.”
During his stay, Cross is interning with U.S. Rep. David Kustoff, R-Tenn., a TFAS alumnus, and taking classes at George Mason University.
Zach Barnes, a legislative director in the U.S. House of Representatives and Cross’s TFAS-assigned mentor for the semester, said students don’t often get to see the day-to-day lives of politicians – especially not students in their second year of college.
“As a sophomore economics student, Camron is getting firsthand insight into how the topics and concepts that he’s studied are applied in the policymaking process,” Barnes said.
“Congressional offices are relatively small, and interns often have opportunities to assist staff members with preparing members of Congress for committee activity, policy meetings and for votes, in addition to handling important constituent service activities like leading tours, answering phones and drafting responses to constituent mail.”
During the program, the Ole Miss student is living with other TFAS participants on Capitol Hill, just blocks from the House of Representatives and Senate office buildings, and attending lectures and luncheons with TFAS alumni.
Each of his professors for his three classes this semester at George Mason University have experience on Capitol Hill, and much of the classroom learning focuses on D.C. politics, Cross said. In his free time, he attends lectures and events with other TFAS students and alumni, including moonlight tours of the monuments, policy briefings and visiting offices of other representatives.
“I have learned being in D.C., politics is a very strong component in your daily life,” Cross said. “It’s pushed me to understand that connections are very important. I’ll take that into my career after college and utilize my networking skills.”
Internships such as Cross’ offer opportunities for students to put the lessons they learn in class into action and to see whether they are interested in the career path, said Joseph Starrs, senior director of journalism, communications and D.C. programs at TFAS.
“Our program is aimed toward having our students experience the totality of Washington,” Starrs said. “In the end, a TFAS student who jumps in with both feet (and) who takes the big bite out of the apple – there’s no telling what this will do for them.”