Messiah offers a variety of excellent off-campus study opportunities, which many politics students choose to take advantage of. The American Studies Program  in Washington, D.C. is particularly beneficial for politics majors. The program consists of a semester–long internship, seminars and housing in apartments eight blocks from the US Capitol and Supreme Court. In this post Junior Havilah Mendez, a current participant, provides insight on the American Studies Program from her personal experiences interning in Washington, D.C.

As I was performing my daily routines of this past fall semester – wading through my economics assignments, writing papers for my foreign policy class, and trying to wake up twice a week for my 8 am – all that I could think of was my upcoming off-campus semester. So while I did all my regular semester work, I wrote my application and sent out resumes for the American Studies Program in Washington,

Havilah in Washington, D.C.

Junior Havilah Mendez is spending this semester studying and interning in Washington, D.C.

D.C. I’m now in the middle of my semester “studying abroad” engaging in what I call long-term experimental learning through my classes in Global Development and through my internship with LIFT-DC.

Coming to LIFT, I only knew superficially what the organization does, but now I have learned much more about LIFT as a missional-organization. LIFT’s basic mission is to work with people who want to get out of poverty and set goals for their future. The organization depends quite a lot on the contributions of student volunteers and this framework influences our work every day.

In a typical day at LIFT, I may meet with a client looking for market-rate housing to utilize a Section 8 voucher or I may have a homeless client looking for a transitional shelter or job training. I discuss all the options with each client and work with them to set goals for what they want to accomplish. LIFT assists clients in employment searches, applications for housing and public benefits, and refers clients to local resources or services like professional training or healthcare.

During my first few days of client meetings at LIFT I found myself asking my supervisors and colleagues lots of questions due to my insufficient knowledge of public benefits and public housing available in DC.. I continue to ask many questions of my site coordinators and other student advocates because every client is different. Each meeting is successful if something positive was accomplished or some action was taken. In one day I can have as many as 6 fifty-minute client meetings, each with a different story and with a different need. LIFT understands that student advocates are sifting through lots of possible solutions to the challenges and questions clients bring, and my job is to guide the client through these solutions.

Havilah in DC

Havilah has enjoyed immersing herself in the city of Washington, D.C. and exploring future career options.

This position has demanded a lot from me. Through the initial training and continuing through my first few client meetings, LIFT has emphasized learning by doing. . I came to more fully understand this approach when I wrote a resume for someone recently released from prison and when I called pro bono lawyers on behalf of a client. LIFT’s “strength-based approach” is challenging, because it requires me to see beyond what I assume are someone else’s weaknesses or failures. A lot of times I feel like I am faking interest or concern. Other times, a client’s immediate needs can seem so distracting that I forget about the ultimate mission to set goals for them. I have learned through experience that “creating value” as an individual is a long process—it depends on the response of clients and the knowledge I already have.


Messiah’s service-oriented environment has been great preparation for my internship in D.C. and I often think back to service projects I did for classes. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to explore career opportunities in D.C. as an International Relations major and to learn more about a city I’d like to work in someday. While I miss my friends back at school, I know this time is great preparation for senior year and beyond. I could go on and on but I need to go to bed soon to make the bus in the morning! See you all in the Fall!

LIFT was covered in a recent story by the New York Times .

and also in this YouTube video

Written by Havilah Mendez, ’13