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Events, alumni networking, courses, and internships for Penn students on campus and in D.C.

Penn in Washington Professors: Interview with Dr. Colleen Shogan

The Penn in Washington semester consists of working a formal internship and taking classes that aren’t offered on Penn’s campus. These classes are specialized and offer unique opportunities for students interested in politics and American governance. Dr. Colleen Shogan, the Deputy Director of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and an Adjunct Professor of Government at Georgetown, teaches a class for Penn in Washington called Regular Order: Congressional Procedure and the Policy Process. This class focuses on our nation’s congressional system, and offers guest speakers each week that offer insight into the process. Sean Torpey, a college senior currently spending the semester in D.C., conducted an interview with Dr. Shogan to showcase the class and asked her for any advice she may have for future professionals interested in D.C.

Why did you decide to work with Penn in Washington? How did you first find out about the program?
“Dr. Deirdre Martinez contacted me about the program and explained she'd like to offer a class on congressional process and procedure. I jumped at the chance to teach the course. Not often is there an opportunity to focus a course on this topic.”

Please tell us a little about your congressional procedure course and how you developed it.
“The class focuses on Congress and the legislative process. Other college courses on Congress include topics such as congressional elections, campaigns, and issues surrounding representation. But this course is unique because it is a pretty deep dive about how both the House and Senate conduct its legislative work. Students in the class will definitely come away with considerable operational knowledge about how Congress considers, debates, and passes legislation.”
Seated left to right, Penn in Washington students Brianna Sainte, Sarah Harris, Jeanmarie Elican, and Anthony Iannarelli

How did you become first interested in Washington D.C.? Was there something in particular, like an event or personality, which drew you to the city?
“I came to the D.C. area because I got a job offer to teach the American presidency and Congress courses at George Mason University as an assistant professor. I had just received my PhD. from Yale and I was happy to have a job. George Mason was a great place to start my career in Washington.”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? 10 years ago did you see yourself here?
“I definitely did not see myself here 10 years ago. I had always thought I would remain a full time faculty member in a Political Science department. I never planned to take a job in the Senate or at the Congressional Research Service. Those were opportunities that presented themselves. I think it's very important to recognize when you have life-changing opportunities in front of you. If your personal circumstances at that time allow you to take advantage of them, you should.”

What motivated you to join CRS? What are the challenges of your job, what's your favorite part?
“I had worked in the Senate for three years and I was looking for a new job. I had an offer from another Senator and it was tempting since I highly respected him. But I also had a job offer at CRS as a first-line research manager, working with political scientists who study and analyze Congress and the federal judiciary. It was a tough decision but I had very little supervisory experience at that point, and the job at CRS gave me that opportunity and a chance to return to a research institution. The biggest challenge we face at CRS today is providing objective, nonpartisan information and analysis to Congress in a format Members and staff can easily utilize for their work. Congress is highly polarized and the parties are internally homogenous. With elections that threaten to upend the majority party in either house every two years, it's a highly politically charged environment in which to work, especially when the task of CRS is to provide objective analysis.”

What are some of your thoughts on the current congressional system? If you could change one thing about the system what would you change and why?
“If I could change one thing, I guess it would be for a majority party in the United States to emerge. If that happened, we would have some stability in the larger political system, and I think we'd start to see more focus and attention to rational governance and possibly compromise.”

As a recent graduate or college student looking for an internship, what's the best way to get started in D.C.?
“Make good contacts and use those contacts to find your next opportunity. D.C. is a place more about relationships than a resume. Your best resource will be the people you get to know.”

Do you have any advice for future PIW participants; for young professionals in general?
“D.C. is a great city for young people starting their careers. D.C. is a lot about results. If you do a good job, word will get around that you're a valuable asset. In Washington, people care less about age and more about energy, enthusiasm, good ideas, and hard work. Capitol Hill is a place in which an intern in a House office can work his or her way up to become the chief of staff. There's very few barriers if you work hard and develop lasting relationships with trusted colleagues.”