Although Karen Gladbach, BA 1980, happened to be out of town when Momo Kikuchi first arrived in Washington, D.C., for her summer internship this July, she quickly knew that the University of Missouri–St. Louis senior would make the most of her time in the Capitol.
“Within her first few days here, she had explored D.C. on her own and ventured out to the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial amongst the crowds to watch the July 4 fireworks – something even many Washingtonians won’t do,” Gladbach said. “She went on her own, and I think that said a lot about her.”
Kikuchi, a senior political science major with a minor in French and a member of the women’s golf team, found herself in D.C. by way of a newly established internship program through the Pierre Laclede Honors College. Over the course of two months this summer, she interned in U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner’s office, getting a wide variety of hands-on experiences including answering phones and talking to constituents, taking notes on hearings, transcribing content from a Federal Reserve meeting and watching White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre give a briefing.
“I got to see politics at work,” she said. “At least in the capacity that I’ve been involved up until now, it has been really theoretical, but I was able to see it in action. Having those eight weeks revitalized my interest in politics. It was super cool; something happens every day on Capitol Hill, and you never know what it’s going to be.”
The UMSL in D.C. internship program officially launched in summer 2022 after years of planning and a series of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent graduate Jonathan Gutierrez, who interned at the World Affairs Council of America last summer, was the first student to participate in the program, which provides students with free housing and a $2,500 stipend. A group of UMSL in D.C. alumni, including Gladbach, Dick Jung, Tom Morris and Matt Shank, helped bring the program to fruition along with Honors College Dean Ed Munn Sanchez, former College of Business Administration Dean Charlie Hoffman, and the Office of Alumni Engagement, all led by the program’s key visionary, Andrew Kersten, then dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Kikuchi said the group of local alumni were a huge part of making her experience this summer so memorable. Along with Gladbach and Jung, BA 1971, she visited the O Street Museum and attended an event at the Military Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, where they heard Chief of Impact Cathleen Pearl, also an UMSL alumna, speak.
“The alumni and the communication there was just so vital in making it all happen,” Kikuchi said. “It’s a daunting task to find an internship in D.C. and then go there for the summer – it’s easier said than done. It would certainly have not been possible without the help of everybody involved. The alumni were very engaged and were always checking up, which is fantastic. They’re great people and have done very cool things in their lives, so it was very interesting just hearing their stories and their experiences post-grad.”
Gladbach and Jung also enjoyed their time exploring D.C. with Kikuchi. After piloting the internship program with Gutierrez last summer, they were excited to see it continue to grow this year, including a new partnership with the International Student House of Washington, D.C. in Dupont Circle, where Kikuchi lived for the summer. Jung believes the internship program represents just one way alumni can help transform the lives of current UMSL students like Kikuchi.
“Momo so much represents what we were looking for with this program,” Jung said. “But more than just the UMSL in D.C. program, Momo really represents what UMSL is doing today in many dimensions – she plays golf, she’s a member of the Honors College. She brought all of that, in terms of particularly her curiosity and her ease. I didn’t feel like I was dealing with a junior in college; I felt like I was dealing with someone who really understood what this opportunity could do and took it all in stride. She is so open to life and learning. Momo, in her short time here, for example, may know more about D.C., including its Metro subway system, than many lifelong residents.”
Gladbach and Jung hope to see the UMSL in D.C. internship program continue to grow over the next few years, expanding in scope and reaching more and more UMSL students each summer.
“Momo was a delight to work with, always engaging and eager to join us for events and share her experiences of working on the Hill,” Gladbach said. “I really believe in the value of these kinds of professional and personal development programs. We see it as much more than just a a 6- or 8-week program; it’s about creating this network of people who have had this life-changing, transformative experience. I hope the UMSL in D.C. internship program will continue to expand so we can bring this professional development and personal growth opportunity to more UMSL students and connect them to UMSL alumni in the area.”
Kikuchi, for her part, knows well the transformative possibilities afforded by the program, and believes it will set her up for success when she pursues law school and an eventual legal career after graduating from UMSL next spring.
“I’ve never watched so much C-Span,” she said with a laugh. “But it was so real. I’m not sure that Capitol Hill is necessarily the place to be in my future, but at its core, I was just so fascinated every day, and it was just so exciting to be there. I’d been so interested in all of these things – legislative procedure and the history of the Capitol and the nation – so to be immersed into it was just another level. It felt much like a great way to head into my senior year finishing up my degree.”
Students interested in learning more about the UMSL in D.C. internship program can contact Pierre Laclede Honors College Dean Ed Munn Sanchez.