“I care about law and public policy. I care about representative government and about how governments allocate funds to meet the needs of their constituents. But the thing I care about most? Helping people figure out what they like to do and how they should go about achieving it.”
For Evan Carnes, BSPA’21, the path to achieving his own professional goals has not always been clear. As a first-generation college student, he arrived on campus unsure of what to expect from his college experience – or from himself. To explore, he poured himself into extra-curriculars: editing with the student newspaper, hosting a radio show, and even appearing in some short films. He learned about O’Neill’s Washington Leadership Program (WLP) as a freshman in the Civic Leaders Center, but he wasn’t sure he would be able to fit an entire semester interning and taking classes in Washington, DC, into his academic plan.
After working it out with his advisors, Carnes realized that WLP was not just possible, but important. “To be exposed at that level on the ground, while still in undergrad—I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to networking and working in or near the government.”
Carnes landed an internship on Capitol Hill with Rep. Ami Bera (CA-7). He spent his days researching current legislation and foreign affairs issues and observing representative government in action.
His WLP classroom experience turned out to be just as important as his internship. With other students in his cohort, Carnes got to have intimate conversations with senior level officials from places like the Department of Energy and the Government Accountability Office.
“Most people think of government as this big, foreboding figure. But really, it’s just composed of other Americans – a representative body carrying out the wishes of many, many people.”
Carnes leaned into the networking aspect of his Washington experience and set up informational interviews with as many people as possible. “Many people can thank the mentors in their lives for helping them achieve the position they’ve reached. So, they’ll pay it forward if you’re interested and working toward the same things.”
By the end of the program, Carnes had already lined up his next internship. He left WLP with a better understanding of how the U.S. government operates and fresh inspiration for his future career, as well as a new sense of self.
“I can point to the program as a specific time where I gained confidence speaking in professional circles. I gained experience that made me feel competent. I learned that if you work really hard and try your best in your related coursework, it will be ok for you. I did not have a lot of mentors in my life to tell me that. This was really the first time that I felt capable.”
For now, Carnes is back in Bloomington, pursuing the O’Neill School’s #1 ranked MPA concentration in public financial administration. He credits WLP with hands-on experience doing what he likes to do – and a path forward to achieving it.