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The Phone Call That Made Me a White House Intern

August 8, 2011

Eric Woodard is the founder of GreatIntern.com. He has created and managed internship programs at the White House, the U.S. Senate and a variety of national non-profits. Eric focuses on teaching students skills they don’t learn in school, but are assumed to possess as interns. Greatintern.com bridges the gap.

WOODARDheadshot The Phone Call That Made Me a White House Intern

Since leaving his scuba job for a White House internship, Eric Woodard has worked full-time for the White House, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and UNESCO.

You never know where your internship will take you.

In 1996, I was working as a scuba instructor in Guam. I spent at least a couple of hours underwater every day, had big, poofy hair, and rarely wore shoes. It was fun, but I knew my brain was getting mushy and I needed to start using it again. So, I applied to some graduate programs and on a whim, sent in an application for the White House internship program.

Fast forward several months: I received a letter from George Washington University letting me know I had been accepted into a graduate program. I said goodbye to my fish friends, packed the few things, and headed to Washington, D.C.

It took me a couple of weeks to get settled in D.C. I found a place to live, scavenged some furniture and bought some real shoes. Just before my classes were scheduled to start, I got up the nerve to call the White House. I just wanted to confirm my assumption that I hadn’t made it into their internship program.

“Just before my classes were scheduled to start, I got up the nerve to call the White House.”

However when I called, the White House internship coordinator asked, “Is this Eric from Guam?” I said, “Yes! But I’m in D.C. now.” She said, “Eric! We’ve been trying to reach out — can you start your internship here on Monday?” I was blown away.

I wound up starting graduate school and my internship in the Office of the First Lady on the same day. Very quickly, I discovered I was learning more from my internship than I was from school. So I made a point to spend as many hours at my internship as I could. When I had class, I would excuse myself for a “meeting” and then hoof it down to GWU. Once class was over, I’d double-time it back to the White House. I worked my tail off — I did schoolwork around 1 or 2 a.m., and caffeine was my friend.

Fast forward about a year: As my graduate program wound down, I got a full-time staff position at the White House working for then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. When she was elected to the Senate in 2001, I helped open Senator Clinton’s office on Capitol Hill and worked there all eight years she served as senator. My internship has led to countless awesome experiences and opportunities to serve others that have shaped who I am today both as a person and a professional.

If I hadn’t sent in that internship application as a scuba island dude all those years ago, it never would have happened.

So let me ask you: Where will your internship lead?

Want to know what it’s like to work at the White House? Leave questions for Eric in the comments!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Freda Williams August 12, 2011 at 11:11 am

What a great article and what a wonderful life you are living. So proud of you.

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