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Gallaudet interns contribute to political system while helping Congress learn about deaf community

Image: Matthew Bennet talks about his congressional internship experiences  at a February 26 panel discussion, while fellow panelists Gregory Randall and Tiasha Bera look on.

Matthew Bennet talks about his congressional internship experiences at a February 26 panel discussion, while fellow panelists Gregory Randall and Tiasha Bera look on.

Image: Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) meets with (from left) Clerc Center Vice President Edward Bosso, President Hurwitz, and Assistant Vice President for Administration Fred Weiner (right) during a February 25 visit to campus.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) meets with (from left) Clerc Center Vice President Edward Bosso, President Hurwitz, and Assistant Vice President for Administration Fred Weiner (right) during a February 25 visit to campus.

Image: During his visit, Rep. Takano, whose district includes California School for the Deaf (CSD)--Riverside, talks with Gallaudet students who attended CSD--Riverside in the LLRH6.

During his visit, Rep. Takano, whose district includes California School for the Deaf (CSD)--Riverside, talks with Gallaudet students who attended CSD--Riverside in the LLRH6.

Alumni and students who have held congressional internships led a panel discussion on February 26 that was sponsored by the Career Center.

The panelists were Tiasha Bera, a business administration major, who interned with Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.); Gregory Randall, a master of public administration (MPA) student and legislative correspondent for Stockman; Matthew Bennett, a former MPA student who graduated in December and is now a legislative correspondent intern for Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.); Matthew Fein, a psychology major, who also interned with Takano, and Jacob Leffler, an alumnus and former intern with Senator Hillary Clinton and for the late Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy's Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The panel was moderated by Beth Keller, a consultant from the Career Center.

The previous day, Takano, who is co-chair of the new Congressional Deaf Caucus, visited the Gallaudet campus for the first time.

Bera and Fein, along with Daniel Heidemeyer, a junior majoring in information technology who also interned with Stockman, helped educate congressional officials and staff in December about working and hiring deaf and hard of hearing people by talking about their internship experience and educating them about deaf culture. The Congressional Deaf Awareness Briefing, as it was called, was part of an internship the students took during the 2013 fall semester, in which they became known as "Team Stockman." They worked alongside Randall and Bennett, who were supporting Stockman and Takano in a variety of ways.

"This internship allowed me to contribute my skills to the American political system," said Bera, who is from Potomac, Md., before the panel presentation. "Joining the Student Body Government at Gallaudet sparked my interest in the political system," she added. When she first arrived at Capitol Hill for the internship, she did routine tasks like sorting mail, but as she gained experience, she took on more responsibility-writing letters promoting legislation that Stockman supports, researching issues, and planning events such as the Deaf Awareness Briefing by Stockman, Takano, and congressmen Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), the latter a member of Gallaudet's Board of Trustees. Bera has served eight internships, and in the process discovered a passion for business, which led her to choose business administration as her major. "It never hurts to start early, since internships help you explore what you like in a field," she said.

Takano recruited Fein to help him and Stockman learn more about the deaf community and the needs of deaf Californians, since Fein, a psychology major, is from Santa Clarita, Calif. He also handled correspondence for Takano, wrote articles in support of school counseling, and gave feedback on deaf-related issues. Takano created the first-of-its-kind Congressional Deaf Caucus, which will include congressmen and senators. A goal of the caucus, which will begin March 12, is to increase the number of congressional offices that hire deaf interns, providing more internship opportunities for Gallaudet students, and in the process heighten awareness about the deaf community. "I was very shy when I first started the internship, but I learned how to speak up for myself and am more confident," Fein said. "This experience opened my mind to other things, although I had to step out of my comfot zone.

During his visit to campus, Takano, whose district includes California School for the Deaf--Riverside, met with President Hurwitz, Clerc Center Vice President Edward Bosso, and Assistant Vice President for Administration Fred Weiner. He also met with Gallaudet students who attended CSD-Riverside, had a tour of the Brain and Language Lab (BL2), and visited MSSD, where he visited classes and went on a student-led tour.

Students who are interested in an internship are invited to contact Keller at beth.keller@gallaudet.edu.

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