As Washington’s intern hordes depart, they take with them the spoils of new experiences

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Carlo Fiorio’s name. This version has been corrected.


Carlo Fiorio interned at Glover Park’s Story House Productions. (Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

The District is undergoing a reverse deluge: The invaders in flip-flops who stormed the city in late spring — otherwise known as interns — are leaving. No longer will you see them vying for cheap pitchers at Pour House or staring intently at the Metro map, oversize sunglasses framing their young, wrinkle-free faces as they clutch their iPhones.

Why did they come? Power. Prestige. Paying dues. Take your pick. Even Brian Williams and Patrick Ewing had to get their start somewhere (interns for the Carter administration White House and the Senate Finance Committee, respectively).

Jaded Washingtonians often view interns the way they do tourists: as seasonal nuisances or objects of scorn (and, sometimes, scandal). Readers zestfully submit and devour postings about their mistakes and mishaps on the three-year-old blog Spotted: D.C. [Summer] Interns:

This morning an intern grabs the phone and proceeds to tell the boss that someone from “Bernie Mac” is on the line. C’mon, man, it’s Freddie, not Bernie.

A staffer in the office is [traveling] for work. The intern overhears her talking about it and goes up to tell her that he knows where to get “some really good weed” in that area.

Daniel Holcombe interned at Historic Congressional Cemetery in Southeast. (Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

An intern to a constituent on the phone: “Our office deals with, like, government and stuff.”

But scoffing at callow 20-somethings trying to break into the professional world ignores what these temporary employees — estimates range from 20,000 to 40,000 — bring to Washington (besides a willingness to do jobs no one else wants, such as sorting faxes).

Most important? Cash.

Stacey Price, executive director of the independent-business nonprofit group Think Local First D.C., says 68 cents of each dollar spent at an independent local business goes back to the community. If interns spend a dollar a day (or even a week), Price says, “we’re automatically putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy here in the summer just from interns.”

And although the stereotype of the hard-partying, ambitious political sycophant may describe some interns, such characteristics don’t fit all recent arrivals. As the District’s technology, historic preservation, art and food sectors expand and diversify, so do the opportunities. Whether it’s developing a reality show concept or sorting through a Founding Father’s garbage, Washington’s younger set needn’t rely on politics as usual to get their start here.

There’s still grunt work, sure, and the money isn’t great, if it exists at all, but these jobs can be rewarding in other ways. “That’s something my generation really cares about: having a job that is fulfilling,” says Isaac Hasson, 21, who this year interned for Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Facebook successively.

Here, we take a look at six temporary workers whose wide range of responsibilities illustrate the evolving role of the intern in Washington.

Carlo Fiorio, media production intern

During his unpaid internship at television development company Story House Productions, Carlo Fiorio had to ask strangers pretty personal questions. Tasked with screening reality-show candidates, the 20-year-old junior was required to delve into marital status and religion. “I was really surprised with how much people would share,” he recalled. “I would never tell a stranger my whole life story.”

The American University student from Paris also conducted research for a sci-fi series and a food-themed reality show (he can’t reveal more because of a confidentiality agreement). And though part of his job in the company’s Glover Park office entailed answering phones, Fiorio also got to brainstorm ideas for shows the company is developing and pitching to networks.

“They were very much into having interns in development meetings,” he said. “They were interested in our input. Once in a while, they’d turn to you and say, ‘What do you think?’ You have to choose your words very carefully, because it’s your moment.”

Before Story House, the film major had been interested in film production only. Now, he sees television development as a possible career path. “I really like the creative process behind it,” he said.

Daniel Holcombe, historic cemetery intern

Daniel Holcombe acknowledged that the early days of his internship felt, well, macabre. “Obviously, working in a cemetery was a little unnerving for my first week or so,” the 23-year-old said of his summer stint at Historic Congressional Cemetery in Southeast Washington. “But you get used to it.”

After graduating from the University of Mary Washington, the Springfield resident took the unpaid gig at the site, which is home to the remains of notables such as John Philip Sousa and J. Edgar Hoover.

Having majored in historic preservation, Holcombe hopes his experience will help him make connections that lead to a full-time job. “I got to go to a book signing party at Cokie Roberts’s house,” he said.

The benefits, however, have come at a put-your-back-into-it price. After starting at Congressional, Holcombe’s first task was to lengthen four cobblestone swales (gutters) to connect them to the modern-day gutter system. The bulk of the work involved embedding hundreds of cobblestones into clay. “Originally, it was very slow,” Holcombe recalled. “I was teaching myself to do it. Trial and error. I would build them, and they just wouldn’t look right, so I’d have to take it back out and do it again.”

After finishing, he started building a dry-rock retaining wall to protect the swales. Relentless and exhausting work, but Holcombe relishes contributing to the hallowed grounds. “We have a lot of stones that are beautifully carved, because one of the periods with the most headstones in the cemetery was when the Capitol was being built,” he said. “A lot of very good carvers were brought in from Europe to carve the Capitol. They moonlighted and did headstone work at night to make a little money on the side.”

Eva Falls, archaeology intern

When Eva Falls started as a lab intern at Mount Vernon, she knew she’d be no paper-pusher. After all, her assignment was to help categorize George Washington’s trash.

“Back then, they didn’t have someone coming around collecting the garbage, so they would look for natural depressions, dig a big hole or an old well,” said the 23-year-old. “People would sweep the yard into these holes or throw things in there. The midden [a fancy word for trash pit] was very close to the kitchen area, and so ... it was very convenient for them to throw broken glassware, old animal bones — I catalogued a lot of those.”

Archaeologists unearthed 50,000 artifacts in the early ’90s from the plantation’s South Grove Midden, which contained detritus dating to the mid-1700s. The objects were cleaned and boxed for storage. Now the estate’s archaeological division is organizing, tagging and filing ye olde junk (the 400 most interesting pieces will be available for viewing online in December at www.mountvernonmidden.org ).

“I spent my first two to three weeks doing nothing but cataloguing window glass,” Falls said. “I was thinking, ‘What did I get myself into?’ ... Then, after I catalogued the window glass, I catalogued oyster shells.”

Three hundred eighty-six pounds of shells later, the East Carolina University grad student, who is studying for her master’s in anthropology, was assigned more intriguing duties: She sifted through “modern trash” (anything dating after 1890), finding the likes of a kid’s retainer and a Gumby figurine.

Although she didn’t receive college credit or a stipend for her internship, Falls said her time was undoubtedly worth it. For one thing, she got to know Washington in a, uh, pretty personal way. “Of course, we’ll never know if George Washington actually used it,” she said of the German stoneware piece she proudly put back together. “But it’s like, ‘Yes, I am putting back together a chamber pot that the president might have used at one time.’ ”

Colleen Rasa, radio intern

As the sole intern at 94.7 Fresh FM’s “The Tommy Show,” Kensington resident Colleen Rasa maintained the schedule of a morning radio show employee — early hours and all. The 20-year-old Miami Universitysenior, who is majoring in journalism and political science, got up at 4 a.m. to make it to the Lanham studios by 5:45 a.m.

“Because you’re waking up so early in the morning, you don’t have to get super dressed up,” she said. “You can wear jeans, basically whatever you want.”

Rasa’s daily tasks included writing blog posts and jotting down contact information for call-in contest winners. She sat in on phone interviews with Chris Rock and, as part of a station promotion, rode Six Flag America’s new coaster, Apocalypse. “I couldn’t believe that was my job to be able to go to Six Flags,” she said.

However, the most vital part of Rasa’s unpaid, one-credit summer gig was what she brought every morning for DJs Tommy McFly, Kelly Collis and Jen Richer: coffee. She had their orders memorized: “Tommy just switched from soy to skim,” she rattled off easily. “Originally it was a grande three-shot soy no-foam latte. ... Kelly gets a grande skinny vanilla latte pump. Jen gets a grande skinny hazelnut.” For her efforts, Rasa earned the nickname “Caffeine Angel.”

Caitlin Tormey, junior fellow at the Library of Congress’s Young Readers Center

The books Caitlin Tormey came across on a daily basis were undoubtedly quite different from her peers’ summer reading list. “ ‘Pinkalicious,’ ” she said. “Little kids love that book. It’s an adorable little picture book saturated with pink.”

The 23-year-old Sacramento resident spent her summer working weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. as a junior fellow at the Library of Congress’s Young Readers Center ( www.read.gov/yrc ). Located in the Thomas Jefferson Building, the center doesn’t boast a rare collection of tomes that guests need a reader’s card to see, let alone touch. It’s a comfy, three-room haven where adults can bring kids 16 and younger to thumb through 3,000 contemporary, youth-oriented books. The selection ranges from picture books to poems to graphic novels. There’s a copy of “The Hunger Games” in Braille.

Although the books can’t be checked out, the center is often a source of respite for parents who are shuttling their kids from one Capitol Hill tour to the next. With 300 to 400 visitors a day, a big part of Tormey’s responsibility was keeping the center organized. “It’s a big space, so children really like to run around,” she says. “Everything stays in some type of controlled chaos.”

Tormey estimates she spent two hours each day reshelving some 100 books. Not that she’s complaining. In addition to a stipend, Tormey is heading back to the University of Washington — where she’s studying for her master’s in library and information science — with warm memories. During one Friday morning reading session packed with parents holding toddlers as a volunteer read a tale, “I had to take a step back,” Tormey said with awe. “I’m at the Library of Congress, and this amazing, vibrant, colorful story time is occurring.”

Isaac Hasson, congressional and Facebook intern

At first glance, Isaac Hasson’s back-to-back internships seem from different worlds. From February to May, Hasson worked as a congressional intern for Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), sorting faxes and taking constituents on tours of the Capitol. After that gig ended, the 21-year-old Northwestern University political science major from Katonah, N.Y., landed a public policy internship in Facebook’s D.C. office.

Yet there is a connection between the two internships: The goal of Hasson’s Facebook gig is to get politicians, embassies and public organizations to use the social network. “A 50-something-year-old congressman may not know the best time to post or the kind of posts that get the most engagement,” Hasson said.

Though he is no longer surrounded by candy, as he was on the Hill (Kirk’s office maintains the chamber’s “candy desk,” which doles out free sweets to senators), Hasson’s current position gives him elbow-to-elbow access to higher-ups. Literally. “At Facebook we sit at long tables with lots of people at the same table,” he said. “I’m working at the same table with people who are way important.”

Kris Coronado is a frequent contributor to the Magazine. To comment on this article, send e-mail
to wpmagazine@washpost.com.

lifestyle

magazine

Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Lifestyle

lifestyle

magazine

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters