Summer 2017 Corps Review | Back
VPI Battalion Column
By Deputy Commandant of Cadets Lt. Col. Don Russell, U.S. Air Force (retired)
Congressman Rob Wittman ’81 has served in public office for over 20 years. He was re-elected for his fifth full term in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2016.
Representing the 1st Congressional District of Virginia, he serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Natural Resources. A few years ago, recognizing the leadership foundation he received while a cadet, Congressman Wittman offered summer internships to cadets in the Citizen-Leader Track. Several cadets have since benefited from this outstanding experience.
Katelyn Margraf ’16 of Great Falls, Virginia, was the first cadet to intern in Congressman Wittman’s office. A political science major with a concentration in national security, Katelyn and I spoke during her freshman year about her aspirations to serve in the federal government. The following year came Congressman Wittman’s offer. Katelyn was one of the first cadets that came to my mind, based on her interests and strong performance in the Corps. She interned during summer 2014.
“I was able to observe firsthand a leader making important national security decisions. I was in constant communications with constituents and resolved various concerns they had. In addition, I learned how policymakers implement national security objectives within our government,” Katelyn said.
“Being able to speak to Congressman Wittman about how he applied the values he learned during his time in the Corps of Cadets inspired me to pursue a life of public service. My internship and the four years I spent in the Corps were pivotal in my decision to pursue my career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation as an intelligence analyst.”
In summer 2016, two more VPI Battalion cadets interned on the hill in Congressman Wittman’s office. Katie Mazzola ’17 of Keswick, Virginia, and Nicholas Masella ’18 of Merrimack, New Hampshire, seized this opportunity. Both political science majors, they too attended committee hearings, worked with constituents, performed various tasks, and sponged all they could about federal legislative processes. Both agree the Capitol Hill internship was priceless experience that will springboard their careers in public service. In fact, Katie just accepted a full-time position in the congressman’s office as a staff assistant.
She said her best memory was attending hearings. “One hearing I attended was the Subcommittee on Readiness, within the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Wittman chaired this hearing. It was shocking to hear about naval aviation’s fleet challenges, especially when some of my friends are commissioning as naval aviators. I was also able to connect to the content from my Virginia Tech class on Congress.”
Added Nicholas, “Another positive memory was the staff themselves. They were some of the most efficient, hardworking, and genuine people I met, and I enjoyed going in to work every day. On the walk to work, I got to see the Capitol every morning. I nodded my head in affirmation and pride that I was working in the center for the worldwide ‘democratic experiment.’ I gained a respect for congressmen and women for the job they are doing. I think people don’t really understand how much work many of them put into their jobs.”
This summer, two more cadets are on the hill. Cadet Mackenzie Morris ’18 is a psychology major from Warrenton, Virginia. A community college transfer student enrolled in the Virginia Tech Honors College, she just completed her first year in the Corps. She will early-turn to cadet junior status this fall. Mackenzie’s goal is federal public service, hopefully with the FBI as a behavioral analyst.
Cadet Ruth Green ’19 of Fairfax, Virginia, is an economics major who aspires to a career in consulting or in the federal government. She reported to Congressman Wittman’s office at the Capitol after her return from Normandy, France, as part of the 2017 Global Scholars Program. A rising junior, she will be the VPI Battalion sergeant major this fall.
Meaningful summer experiences, particularly internships, are constantly reinforced to VPI cadets. In today’s college graduate job market, professional experience is the great discriminator. The majority of VPI graduates who have gone to amazing careers leveraged great opportunities available during summer. To earn those opportunities, it helps to be competitive. The Corps experience certainly contributes to giving cadets that edge.
Another competitive edge is networking. Many organizations communicate directly through me or Jason Oberoi with their recruitment needs. Jason is assistant director for the Citizen-Leader Track. His focus is employer engagement initiatives, and that includes building the Corps alumni network.
The Citizen-Leader Track is very grateful for the enduring partnerships we have with organizations, including well-placed alumni like Congressman Wittman. These cadet interns are very thankful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve Virginia’s 1st Congressional District while gaining experience highly valued by future employers.