Mary Harman, a third year Gallaudet student, interned at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during the fall of 2014 and is exuberant about the experience. "Many people think that government jobs are boring and bureaucratic, but not the FCC," she exclaimed. "This internship is very dynamic. I'm doing different things every day."
A double major in government and business at Gallaudet, Mary wants to attend law school following graduation. During one of her classes last year, she participated in a mock trial where she collaborated with like-minded students and met deaf people involved in the legal field. After that transformative class, she found herself drawn to the legal profession, and specifically to advocate for disabled people.
Inspired to find a suitable internship, Mary searched for employment that would let her see legal theory and principles in action while also promoting disability rights. She zeroed in on an internship opportunity at the FCC, applied, and was accepted.
Gallaudet alumni Greg Hlibok, '89, Chief of the FCC's Disability Rights Office (DRO) under the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, was Mary's immediate supervisor. "The internship program is precious to me because I benefitted from it when I was a Gallaudet student," said Hlibok, who is also a lawyer. "The internship is a win-win opportunity. The office benefits from having the extra help, and the intern gets the chance to see and understand what is at stake here, and what we deal with every day."
The internship ran from early October to early December and Mary found it rewarding for several reasons; chief among them is the significance of the work. She shared that the decisions made at the FCC influence people's lives on a daily basis in terms of access to communications. Hlibok concurred, "The decisions made here cannot be taken lightly."
Another highlight she reports was working with different lawyers and gaining an understanding of what a career in law could entail. Not all law school graduates go on to be courtroom lawyers, even though that is the popular perception. Instead, there are a variety of careers and professions in which having a legal background is very beneficial. "I love being able to talk with former law-school students on a daily basis...learning tips and getting advice for what to do when I'm ready for law school," Mary remarked.
Within the DRO, Mary worked with a deaf team that includes many other Gallaudet alumni. She explained that this office focuses on disability policy and deals with captions, telecommunications relay services, deaf consumers' needs, and legal issues, among other things. Greg has a lot of responsibility within this office and Mary was able to assist him with legal research, reference work, and other important tasks.
One such task Mary undertook was reviewing requests from companies to waive such things as captioning requirements. The FCC reviews the submission, decides whether or not to grant the waiver, and then relays the verdict to the applicant via a document called Memorandums of Orders and Opinions (MO&O). During the process, Mary dissected the MO&O to ensure that it has the correct citations and legal references, and that the FCC is presenting a strong argument. More recently, she started providing assistance on MO&O responses which is an impressive feat considering the legal density of these documents.
"It is wonderful having Mary work with us," Hlibok said. "She's enthusiastic, highly energetic, and ready to take on any task I give her. She works on research, writing, summarizing complex issues, and also observes large meetings. Some of the things we do here are very tedious, and Mary remained enthusiastic regardless. I am thrilled that she had this chance, and that we had the chance to work with her. What makes all this possible? Gallaudet. We really have to thank Gallaudet for giving us the opportunity."
Mary, too, is thrilled with her experience and may continue interning one day a week next semester. "This is where my passion lies," she stated. "At Gallaudet, I saw a lot of issues that students had to face and I confronted those head-on. I want to continue my advocacy after graduation, and this was a perfect place to get my start."