Q&A: White House Intern Mariya Ilyas ’13

Photo courtesy of Mariya Ilyas ’13

In mid-January, Mariya Ilyas ’13 began a highly competitive, semester-long internship at the White House. Although she’s missing her final semester at Bowdoin, Ilyas has enough credits to walk with her peers in May’s commencement ceremony and will complete her final math credits this summer.

Ilyas has built up a wide-ranging resume as a student. A math major and a government and legal studies minor, she has been highly involved with Bowdoin’s McKeen Center and was named a fellow at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She was also a math tutor in Portland and on campus, a Bowdoin tour guide, student manager of Super Snack, student IT specialist, treasurer for the Muslim Student Association, arts and entertainment editor for The Bowdoin Orient, ESOL teacher in Portland, journalism and English teacher in Pakistan, and intake volunteer for a pro bono legal service in Portland.

After taking some time to settle into her new internship, Ilyas answered a few questions about her White House experience.

Bowdoin Daily Sun: What inspired you to pursue an internship at the White House?
Mariya Ilyas: My community immersion trip through the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good was my first introduction to the “common good,” and definitely the spark that ignited my passion for public service. My cumulative experiences serving communities in Maine, D.C., Guatemala, and Pakistan, complemented by my studies in sociology, exposed me to a wide variety of social issues ranging from urban poverty to hunger and homelessness, from refugee resettlement to educational disparities. It is these experiences that pushed me to learn about public policy as a viable avenue to alleviate these issues. I pursued the White House internship to learn how decisions regarding domestic and international issues are made by the Executive Branch. I want to better understand the roles of the Executive Branch and experience the democratic process from the other side — plus, the opportunity to serve President Obama is a privilege I will cherish forever.

BDS: What are your specific duties? Who are you working for?
MI: I am an intern with the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO), which oversees the selection process for Presidential appointments. My duties are primarily research oriented.

BDS: Are you specializing in one area, or will you be moving to different departments over the course of your internship?
MI: The Internship Program is set up so that we immerse ourselves in one particular office and gain a full understanding of how that office contributes to the larger workings of the Obama Administration.

BDS: How many other interns are there? Where are they from?
MI: The interns are from every corner of the country and are working in a variety of White House offices, ranging from the Office of Presidential Correspondence to the Office of Digital Strategy to the White House Counsel.

BDS: What are your days like so far?
MI: So far, my days have been full of surprises! I am still settling into my office and getting a hang of things.

BDS: What’s been the most exciting moment so far?
MI: The most exciting moment so far has been getting to see President Obama as he boarded Marine One from the South Lawn.

BDS: What’s been the most challenging moment so far?
MI: The most challenging moment so far has to be training my body for a long work day. I have a 30-minute commute via metro every day (and I thought Bowdoin’s 8:30 classes across the Quad were awful! I also find myself snacking more than I normally would.)

BDS: What do you hope to gain from this experience?
MI: I know this internship will transform me forever. In addition to the work I will do specific to my office, the umbrella internship office has planned exciting programming for us, including speaker series, interest groups, career development workshops and large service projects. Through this internship, I hope to continue serving the D.C. community, make hosts of lifelong friends, and develop personal and professional skills. I also hope to gain a greater appreciation for our democratic republic which strives to provide liberty and justice for all, so that one day I can confidently pursue a career in public service.

BDS: And I have to ask: Have you met President Obama? If so, please tell us the story!
MI: I have not met President Obama yet, but I hope that dream comes true sometime during my internship.

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