Oregon student spends summer interning at the White House
The last time most area residents saw Emma Rae Phillips, she was walking up the steps to give her speech as valedictorian for the Class of 2019 at Scappoose High School.
More recently, however, she's been seen ascending the steps at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the West Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C. Phillips, 19 and an incoming sophomore at Brown University (an Ivy League school located in Providence, Rhode Island), just completed a two-month internship at the White House.
The application process
Phillips — who also attended St. Helens for part of her high school career — began the application process for her internship last fall. Then, after working her way through the four-month process (and many security checks), she was finally approved for the internship, which began in mid-June and continued for two months. Phillips' intern coordinator told her that just 5% of all applications for White House internships are approved.
"It's very competitive, but I made it on my own merit, which I'm really proud of," Phillips said. "The first day of my internship, my supervisor told me 'It's not who you know, it's what they think of you. And at first, I was like, 'No. Everyone here has connections. I'm a fish out of water.' … But as my internship went on, I definitely started to see that that was true."
The political side of things
Phillips said she decided to go after the internship because it dovetails with her current double major in economics and public policy.
"Being a public policy major, I wanted to see more of the political side of things," she said. "I'm obviously interested in politics, but I feel like within politics, you have policy people and then you have politics people and it's kind of two different things. And I'm more (into) research-based policy drafting — that's kind of the way that my brain works. So being able to be in the executive branch for the summer and see the political side up close was really beneficial for me."
Phillips, who had to arrange for (and pay for) her own apartment in Washington, D.C., said that her first year on the East Coast — and all the "new" that came with her first year at Brown — helped prepare her for all the challenges of the ensuing White House internship.
"I knew nobody in the DC area. I had to be a brave girl and just do it," Phillips said. "(But) I enjoyed it, and I think being over on the East Coast for school for the year definitely gave me some 'adulting' tools that I needed."
Doing real work
As to the internship itself, Phillips said she was really allowed to work during her time in the Office of Cabinet Affairs, adding that she was never asked to get someone coffee or water or "any of that stuff."
Instead, some of projects included: creating a database, charts, and graphs to track media effectiveness and gain insights on topics relevant to the American people for senior administration personnel; compiling various tracking documents on logistics, administration accomplishments and future policy goals; and assisting in a variety of office tasks, attending regular staff meetings, conducting general research, drafting materials for supervisors, and setting up for senior staff presentations and agency meetings.
Regarding the project on the media effectiveness of administration officials, Phillips designed a tool in Excel that used various formulas to track and assign values to the digital and print media insights associated with cabinet members and some members of the president's office.
"I had no prior experience with (Excel) so I had to learn on the spot," Phillips said. "I designed this database that would take all of their media insights from social media and print media … organize it and then it would spit out values to compare different cabinet members and the effectiveness with how they were communicating.
"It was a really cool project and I think that it is something that actually could be used by the administration in the future, which is the ultimate goal."
Other highlights from her time in Washington are: just working in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building every day ("It is a beautiful building. It was like working in a museum every day. I absolutely loved it," Phillips said); and experiencing the Fourth of July fireworks show from the South Lawn with President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump nearby on the White House balcony.
"It's something to be a sixth-generation Columbia County girl, and just to be there and to be doing something that I felt was contributing to the greater good of the country was absolutely amazing," she said. "I felt like I had to pinch myself every day that I stepped on complex because it's just so amazing."
From Brown to D.C.
Despite coming from Brown's liberal campus — that was Phillips' description — the internship in the Trump White House made perfect sense for the Scappoose graduate.
"Everyone on campus knows me already. I'm very active in all of the … right-leaning political clubs at Brown," she said. "I already have the label as 'Trump girl' on campus at Brown, and that was a lot at first, but I honestly don't care now. I wear it with pride.
"It is challenging to be a conservative young woman in that environment. … The things that I've had yelled at me on campus in my first year are things that I never would have imagined I would be called, but I don't know. It is what it is."
Reveling in her summer
While she awaits her return to Oregon for some well-earned vacation and then her sophomore year at Brown, Phillips took a moment to revel in the amazing nature of her summer.
"Anything that I wanted to experience, they tried to make it happen," Phillips said, adding that "Two years ago, I had no idea that I would be at Brown University. I had no idea I was going to be at an Ivy League school. I had no idea that I was going to be interning at the White House. I didn't. So I'm kind of just going with the flow and keeping my faith strong and letting God guide me right now."
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