Vivian Walker, Social Work Graduate Student
You recently served a White House internship. Where did you work?
I was in the Agency Liaison Department of the Office of Presidential Correspondence. The office receives about 65,000 letters a week and something like 100,000 e-mails a day. Some are requests for congratulatory messages to Eagle Scouts or newlyweds, but others are more serious. My department specifically dealt with letters that could be characterized as “cries for help.”
What are those?
They’re letters from citizens facing different crises, such as foreclosure, IRS garnishment, or delayed veterans’ benefits. One letter I handled was from an elderly man who had a Social Security problem. When it was straightened out, he ended up receiving a sum of about $50,000 for back payments.
Sounds like a rewarding job.
The internship overall was just a great learning experience. I’m much more aware of what’s going on outside my own world now.
Did you get to meet the president?
Yes, and I was able to hear from Vice President Joe Biden, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and first lady Michelle Obama during an intern speakers series. Mrs. Obama was my favorite; she is so genuine.
What was the most challenging part about the internship?
Being away from my husband and son was very difficult. But the biggest challenge came not from the work itself, but from the logistics. For me to get academic credit for the internship, a licensed social worker had to supervise my work. Originally, I made an arrangement with someone from the Office of Presidential Correspondence, but she ended up resigning because of medical and family issues. For a while I really thought I would have to come home.
How were you able to stay?
Thankfully, Ellen Murphy, the UTA School of Social Work’s director of field instruction, was able to get in touch with a professor from Howard University, which is located nearby. She agreed to take over my supervision and even let me participate in workshops at Howard.
Was it smooth sailing after that?
Not quite. I had quit a full-time job to take the internship, but everything in Washington, D.C., is more expensive than I realized. My family’s budget was really strained, and again I faced the possibility of having to return home. But I wrote to President Spaniolo explaining the situation, and he awarded me a Presidential Scholarship. That allowed me to finish my internship.
So you wrote your own “cry for help” to the president?
Seems appropriate, doesn’t it?