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In today’s competitive job market, internships are an excellent way to obtain professional experience and stand out when applying for jobs post-graduation. Pitt students Chinyere Okonkwo, Jake Lorenz, Sophia Shapiro and Liam Horan ensured their classroom experiences and passion for public service would connect to their careers by securing summer internships at the White House. Read about their experiences below.
As a 20-year-old Black woman with red hair and a septum piercing, Chinyere Okonkwo hinted that she brought positive and sometimes unexpected energy to the White House — an assertion she said several Black and brown celebrities and politicians supported during many of the events she helped plan during her White House Internship Program.
“Prominent actors, musical artists, content creators and Black congressional members said having me welcome and guide them through the campus was unexpected and comforting, and they were proud of me for confidently being there,” she recalled of specific events featuring Broadway Inspirational Voices and bands from historically Black colleges and universities. “I felt supported by strangers I have watched in awe through a screen.”
The Prince George’s County, Maryland, native learned about the internship from a cousin whose excitement about the experience encouraged her to apply. She credited her father, whom she watched politics and news with as a child, for sparking her interest in government and instilling in her the confidence to take and make space.
“He always valued my opinion and insights,” said the senior political science and sociology double major, who initially considered Pitt because of its top-tier engineering programs and scholarships. “Having that confidence in my voice, opinions and perspectives made me inclined towards studying political science and how people and groups interact within it.”
Her responsibilities throughout the summer included volunteering, escorting high-level officials and family members, and collaborating with interns and offices to organize events large and small, such as the Pride Picnic, Juneteenth Celebration, Fourth of July, the U.S. Cyber Trust Mark rollout, the Congressional Picnic, the India State Arrival, class pictures with the President and intern chats with members of Congress and other senior advisors. She helped support the intern application process
“Seeing each event come to fruition and students get accepted into the program was the best manifestation of my work,” Okonkwo said. But a top experience was seeing an unlikely duo sharing space: Bernie Sanders and actor and comedian Druski.
“They are individuals I look up to in different ways,” she said. “Bernie Sanders is a political icon who embodies many of the beliefs I value. Meeting him and being on the receiving end of his unwavering kindness was extremely special. On the other hand, Druski is a new icon in my personal life. He is extremely funny and reminds me of my family and friends. His comedic videos helped to make COVID life a little easier.”
While the daughter of Nigerian immigrants’ prior experience has consisted of working with nonprofits and think tanks and in research, her sights are set on political consulting, pursuing a dual Juris master’s and doctorate in public policy to become a civil rights or immigration lawyer.
“I feel blessed to have been supported through this by my family and friends, because it wouldn’t have been possible without them,” she said. “My family who went through hell and high water to afford me the life I have today. I feel fortunate to make their sacrifices worth it. Again, seeing everyday Americans to celebrities, politicians enter the gate and tell me how refreshing it is to see someone that looks like them working there gave me the warmest feeling I’ll ever receive and was the validation that being there and doing that work was important.”
Jake Lorenz applied for a summer internship at the White House because he felt motivated by President Joe Biden and his administration’s commitment to serving all Americans.
“For perspective, Donald Trump was elected when I was in eighth grade, so that culture of divisive rhetoric and partisanship has been all that I have truly known,” said Lorenz.
The junior political science major hails from West Chester, Pennsylvania. Last spring, he served as the political-military intern at the U.S. Embassy to Estonia, working to support the diplomacy behind U.S. defense posture in the Baltics and security cooperation in light of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, at the State Department. A David C. Frederick Public Service Internship Award recipient and Frederick Honors College student, Lorenz is also politically involved on campus and previously interned at the American Enterprise Institute.
Lorenz chose to attend Pitt after being selected as a Class of 2025 Stamps Scholar for his exemplary scholarship, leadership, and service. Recipients of this prestigious award receive funding to cover four years of tuition along with enrichment activities such as leadership training, conferences, and study abroad. “The Stamps Scholarship has unlocked every door for me, and I couldn't be more grateful to be surrounded by such amazing colleagues,” said Lorenz.
Having always viewed government as having a unique capacity to enact positive change in people’s lives, interning at the White House, a globally recognized symbol of democracy, was a benchmark goal for Lorenz.
Over the summer, he worked in the Office of Scheduling and Advance, where he authored drafts of the daily schedule, prepared materials for senior staff, and assisted with managing incoming scheduling requests.
“This work was unbelievably exciting and allowed me to see the breadth of what the White House does every single day,” he said, citing his pride in working with a team and administration that “has continued to demonstrate its commitment to fight for the soul of America. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Lorenz plans to pursue a career in public service in the future, and said a return to the White House is something he would gladly welcome. Until then, the memory of Jennifer Hudson’s performance during the White House’s Juneteenth Concert is one of many he’ll continue to cherish.
Watching the hit show “The West Wing” inspired junior political science major Liam Horan to want to work at the White House in the seventh grade.
“From that show, I fell in love with politics; it inspired me to pursue a career in public service,” said Horan, also pursuing minors in economics and French and a certificate in European Union studies. Later, following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in his first year of high school made him realize “standing on the sidelines was no longer an option.” As a result, the Irvine, California, native joined California High Schoolers for Biden, where he led statewide voter registration efforts and, more recently, interned at the State Department.
His childhood dream became a reality this summer when he worked as an Office of Communications intern in the Research Division. His core responsibilities included media monitoring during President Biden’s remarks or breaking news, congressional hearings, press analysis, and fact-checking Presidential Proclamations, all of which he tracked and analyzed for senior staff and communications advisors.
“I am an avid supporter of President Biden’s policies — whether it be taking concrete steps to out-compete China, passing the largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway Act or bringing green manufacturing jobs back to the United States,” said Horan. “Thus, when I saw the opportunity to serve in the Biden-Harris administration, I went for it.”
All of this, he said, was only possible because of the opportunities and exposure one gains as a Pitt student.
“I decided to come here for the University’s location in Pittsburgh, the incredible courses it offers through its political science and international relations curriculum and my goal to live in a completely new environment in an entirely different part of the country,” Horan said. “I am glad I made that decision, as I have been able to take advantage of some incredible opportunities that I never would have had if I stayed in California. Pitt is also rare among public universities for the high number of merit scholarships it offers, which I am extremely grateful for, as it allowed me to go to school out of state.”
While there were many exciting moments and experiences that he will cherish from his time at the White House, he described wrangling the press (escorting members of the press corps around the grounds) during the India state visit and lunch in the Navy Mess, the West Wing restaurant run entirely by U.S. Naval Officers, as “truly surreal.” The internship opened the door for him to spend the month of August as a White House Press Advance Associate, which enabled him to ride in the President’s motorcade.
“This gave me a front-row seat to history, which I will never forget.”
Horan is studying abroad for the year at the London School of Economics to concentrate on international relations, macroeconomics and strategic communications. He credits the David C. Frederick Honors College for the opportunity.
“While I am still trying to figure out exactly what I want to do next summer, I am inspired by President Biden and forever grateful for the opportunities that I have had and for the opportunity to be a small part of his team,” he said.
When senior and Stamps scholar Sophia Shapiro arrived at Pitt from Abington, Pennsylvania, she didn’t know urban studies was an undergraduate major. But the spring semester of her first year and a Frederick Honors College course on housing and property in U.S. cities altered everything.
“That completely changed my academic trajectory,” she said, noting being drawn to the major’s interdisciplinary structure. “I find interest in examining societal problems from various lenses and using a multifaceted approach to address them. Urban studies encompasses many issues I am passionate about and has shown me the interconnected nature of some of society’s challenges and given a broader framework for tackling pressing problems.”
Shapiro dreamed of working in Washington, D.C., since high school, and interning at the White House has been on her wish list. As an Office of Scheduling and Advance intern, she supported the office’s work on domestic and international trips, coordinating staffing, logistics, budgeting, credentialing, visas and more. She also had a direct hand in specific events, including the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument Proclamation signing.
“I want to work in public service, and this internship provided me the opportunity to contribute to meaningful and impactful work,” she said. “The learning opportunities and connections you can make with this type of internship are invaluable.”
Her favorite experience, she said, was joining the advance team for the President’s remarks at the Truman Civil Rights Symposium in the National Archives.
“I was thrilled to be on the ground and help execute the event,” Shapiro said. “As someone with both a political and production background, this was an opportunity to see how my seemingly varied interests can be combined in a uniquely useful way. I hope to continue in public service and use my diverse skills for this work.” And the work goes on.
After the internship’s conclusion, she became an Advance Associate, joining and assisting with various White House trips. In September, she traveled to Vietnam, where she helped develop and execute President Biden’s trip logistics, meetings, remarks and events.
“I worked to ensure the logistics on the ground for this historically significant international visit successfully achieved the goal of strengthening US-Vietnamese relations. I plan to continue making trips throughout the year when I can, and I hope to have the opportunity to do this type of work full-time in the spring post grad.”
Like several peers and fellow interns, she said Pitt provided the foundation for her to have this exceptional experience.
“Pitt offers unique opportunities for real-world experiences and research opportunities.” She said she knew the University had the most potential to do so from the time she applied. “Working in the White House this summer was an incredible opportunity I will cherish forever. It was even more special that I could share this experience with fellow Pitt students.”
— Kara Henderson, photography courtesy of the students, from left, Okonkwo, Shapiro, Horan and Lorenz