Audrey Henson (left), the founder and CEO of College to Congress, and Zoe Scott inside the Capitol
When Zoe Scott was a child, the question was often posed to her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Like many kids, Scott’s answer could vary depending on any number of factors: how early in the day it was, what she’d seen on TV the night before, or if she was particularly hungry at that moment. At times her destined career path might have been becoming a mermaid, and at others, the president, both of which could be dubbed equally unrealistic depending on who you ask.
However, if one were to flash forward to present day and take into account the eventful summer Scott spent at the U.S. capitol, the latter profession doesn’t seem so out of reach.
Thanks to the aid of non-profit organization College to Congress and its partnership with the University of Montevallo, Scott spent two months in Washington D.C. completing a rigorous and prestigious internship in the office of Senator Doug Jones, D-AL.
College to Congress’s mission is to provide pathways to Pell grant-eligible students seeking highly competitive internships in Congress. More often than not, such positions are unpaid, which can act as a barrier to low-income individuals seeking these opportunities.
“These internships can lead to the jobs that allow people to be those influential decisionmakers and voices in America,” said Scott. “College to Congress wants Congress to look like America, bringing voices to the table from all backgrounds and stories.”
Cost was not the only potential barrier for Scott. Although possessing the necessary qualifications and an outstanding work ethic, she was not naïve enough to think that alone could secure her such a highly sought-after position.
“I saw it as a closed door. As a young woman in the south there are certain limitations society wants to put on someone like me,” said Scott. “My parents are incredible, but they’re not well-connected politically, which is what you oftentimes need to attain these kinds of internships.”
There were also certain personal values Scott hoped not to compromise on should she ever make it to capitol hill. Although Alabama is a red state, Scott knew she wanted to work for a Democrat, which, until the election of Senator Doug Jones in December 2017, would have been another obstacle to overcome.
Yet, one by one, such obstacles were eliminated, and all the proper pieces seemed to be falling into place. For the political science and environmental studies double major, it felt as though the stars had aligned in order to make this opportunity possible.
However, obtaining the internship was only half the battle; performing the daily tasks required of her once within the capitol was another crusade altogether.
While in D.C., Scott began each day at 8:30 a.m. and finished 9 hours later at 5:30 p.m. The time in-between was spent working at the front desk and checking in those visiting or holding meetings with the senator, providing tours of the capitol, answering phone calls from Alabama constituents and completing research projects for the senator and other staff members.
“Issues discussed are so varied. No one person could take in all of it, so you work to ease that burden,” said Scott. “They needed facts and information, and interns can be useful tools to get those.”
All the while, Scott said she made it through the experience with the guidance of her support system from College to Congress.
“I had this network who wanted to support me and also to relieve the burdens they experienced so I didn’t have to,” said Scott. “Audrey Henson, founder and CEO of College to Congress, is a remarkable woman. I remember telling her I didn’t always perceive myself as being strong. It’s a powerful label, and not one I felt fit me. She told me, ‘I’ve only known you for a couple days and I think you’re strong, and you’re just going to get stronger from here.’”
Scott said she was also warmly welcomed by every UM alumni she met, who provided her everything from life advice to intel on the best local coffee spots.
“They made me feel at home in a city that’s 800 miles away,” added Scott.
It’s more than the alumni Scott said she was thankful for, she believes the skills learned at UM were uniquely applicable to her situation as well.
According to Scott, D.C. is often characterized as a politically polarized city, but there’s a lot more work that goes on across the aisle than others realize; people who don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on everything find common ground every day to make meaningful progress happen.
“UM prepared me to have conversations with people I didn’t agree with and to find common ground so we could work together,” said Scott. “It sounds cliché, but we have a diverse student body, so I carried that perspective to D.C., and that was one of the most powerful tools I had at my disposal.”
While Scott’s immediate future doesn’t include a presidential campaign, working in the capitol as a legislative assistant is a path she could easily see herself following.
“I really fell in love with D.C. this summer, so I definitely hope to go back,” said Scott. “But, opportunity presents itself in curious ways, so I want to be open to whatever might be next.”