Federal Bureau of Investigation Headquarters sign with recruits in the background

Mackenzie Chakara Justice and Law

November 6, 2017 | It is so hard to believe there is only one month left of my semester in Washington! I have learned so much about myself, politics, culture, and law, and I look forward to applying this invaluable experience to the work that I do even after leaving D.C. The past few weeks have been fun and exciting, especially since my class was able to meet a Supreme Court Justice and tour the FBI Academy in Quantico.

Washington Semester students at the Supreme Court with Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My Justice and Law classmates and I were joined by the American Politics class at the United States Supreme Court, where we toured the beautiful building and saw the courtroom where oral arguments take place. After our tour, we went to a conference room that had portraits of all the Chief Justices on the walls, with a beautiful chandelier. In this room, we waited with anticipation to hear from a Supreme Court Justice - Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Of all the Justices on the Supreme Court, it was exciting to hear from one who has left such a profound impression on the Court, as people either greatly admire Justice Ginsburg or are staunchly opposed to her opinions.

Students were able to ask Justice Ginsburg a few questions, and she talked a bit about the history of the Court. She shared her personal experience of becoming a Justice and what it was like navigating law school as a woman going at a time where very few females were given the opportunity to even practice law. One of my classmates asked her about her fight for women's equality in the legal field, and Justice Ginsburg shared that she has seen immense progress for gender equality and she hopes to see even more opportunity for women to hold positions like hers in the future.

Replica of the Twin Towers from New York City at the FBI Headquarters in Quantico, Virginia

Just days after meeting a Supreme Court Justice, my class went to Quantico Bay, VA, where the Marines offer land to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for training new agents. On our tour, we learned about the process to become an agent, and we got to witness some of the training taking place. There were some really interesting training facilities, including a building where parts of Silence of the Lambs were filmed and a place called Hogan's Alley - a life-size fictitious town where trainees can practice real world simulations.

It has been incredible to have these experiences, meeting such inspirational individuals, making new friends, and exploring the D.C. area. Having been here for almost the whole semester, I can say that I have really learned so much that I can carry with me through the rest of my life. My professors and internship supervisors have been so supportive and insightful as I navigate my career path, and the friendships I have gained through the Washington Semester Program are invaluable. If anyone wants experience in D.C. during undergrad, I would definitely recommend this program!

Blog History

Quote from African American Museum:

Mackenzie Chakara Justice and Law

October 23, 2017 | The past two weeks have very intense with work and school, as my internship has involved more serious research and writing, and I was prepping for my Justice and Law midterm. I tried to stay focused these past two weeks on my school work and internship research, but I made sure to take some very fun study breaks!

Since the Justice and Law concentration has taken a close look this semester at various forms of injustice, we have studied racial issues a lot in the course, and our class was able to take a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture last weekend. It is very difficult to get tickets for this museum, but some of us woke up early to reserve tickets online, others waited in line for over an hour to get inside. We all felt that the wait or early morning wake-up call were well worth it.

The museum takes visitors on a journey through the African American experience, beginning with the slave trade and climbing to today through a physical transition from the basement level to the top floor of the building. As an African American student, I loved this trip to the museum, as I was able to appreciate the history of black culture in a new way. My favorite part of the museum was the use of quotes from famous poets, activists, and other prominent black figures. As a lover of literature intrigued by the impact of words, a lot of the quotes really stuck with me and inspired me to read more African American writing.

Celebrating African American influence in all of American society, the museum includes exhibits on athletics, political activism, musicians, artists, and several other cultural themes. It provides insight into the way that African Americans have shaped our present society, from American comfort food to the way we dress and speak. I was in the museum for over four hours, and even then I felt like I could have stayed longer. I definitely recommend that everyone visit this museum, regardless of your background, because it encapsulates much of the American spirit and demonstrates well the impact of black culture on American society as a whole.

The next day, one of my friends from home came to visit me, and since she hasn't spent much time in Washington, I got to feel like a tour guide. I took her to the National Museum of American History because I love the exhibit with the First Ladies' Inaugural ball-gowns and the Star-Spangled Banner flag from 1814.

Mackenzie with a friend in front of the Washington Monument on the national MallNow that test week is over, I look forward to American University's homecoming weekend, which they call "All-American Weekend." This weekend will hold plenty of events for students and alumni, and as someone who loves homecoming weekend at my home school, I am excited to participate in a different university's tradition as well. At my internship, I am increasingly busy with work that I love, researching issues of racial equality that are very important to me. The work is exhaustive but rewarding, and I have some exciting news to share about it in the near future!

Hillary Clinton visiting Mackenzie's internship office

Mackenzie Chakara Justice and Law

October 9, 2017 | The past couple of weeks have been exciting and busy! One of my favorite things about being in DC is that you never know who you might see on a given day. Last week, I attended an event that featured a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Just today, former presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited my internship office. It has been a huge honor to be in the presence of such incredible women, and to learn a bit from them about how to continue to fight for causes important to us.

American University offers an award called Wonk of the Year, and the 2017 recipient was Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai. Students are able to reserve a free ticket and attend an event where the recipient gives a brief speech and participates in Q&A time, responding to questions submitted by students in the audience. Malala is a very well-spoken woman, and I loved hearing her speak passionately about girls' education. She is the youngest recipient of the Wonk of the Year Award, and it was inspiring for me to see how a person younger than myself can make such a powerful impact on the lives of people all over the globe.

Malala Yousafzai at American University eventOne of the questions asked of Malala was if she felt that nations were doing all that they could to respond to her concerns about equal education across the globe. She responded by stating that there was still a lot of work to be done, and she will continue to fight for girls' education, especially through the United Nations' efforts. I thought it was important that she is proud of the work that she has done, but she maintains her drive to pursue greater access to education for all people. She especially emphasized the fact that educating girls benefits entire communities, not just the females. She spoke so eloquently and provided insight into the work she does while sharing a bit about her personal life. I was extremely grateful to be in Washington at this time to see such an inspiring figure speak.

Not only was I able to see Malala speak, but just a few days later I was able to see Hillary Clinton in CAP's office. Secretary Clinton was featured on CAP's podcast, Thinking CAP, and she was generous to allow our staff to take a photo with her. When she walked into the room full of staff lined up to take a photo, Secretary Clinton was welcomed with warm applause that went on for so long that she had to politely ask us to hold our applause as the president of our organization introduced her to us. Secretary Clinton briefly addressed us, expressing great appreciation for CAP and the work that we do. She encouraged us to continue our great work for progressive policies. After taking the photo, Secretary Clinton kindly greeted many of us, shaking hands with the staff around her before leaving our office.

The Capital of the United States is an exciting place for many reasons, and I could write a full essay on all the wonderful things about this city. Among the best of these is the opportunity to see dynamic figures at any given moment. Anyone who gets the opportunity to come to DC for any amount of time should take time to explore the city and see who you might run in to!

Mackenzie Chakara with friend in front of a monument in D.C.

Mackenzie Chakara Justice and Law

October 2, 2017 | It is so hard to believe that I've been here for almost a week already! I feel like I'm drinking from a fire hydrant with all the information I've been soaking up in DC. My classes have been interesting, as we have had great class discussions and learned so much from guest speakers. At my internship, I am meeting so many individuals who have become mentors for me as I learn more about how Washington works and the role I can play in it.

For the Justice and Law Seminar class, we have had several guest speakers this month. From police officers to a DEA agent, from lobbyists to staff members of congressional offices, I have gained a wealth of information. My favorite of the guest speakers was an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Woods told us so much about how the DEA operates, from its office locations in over 70 countries to his undercover jobs, and the DEA's important relationship with the intelligence community. I learned so much in just a short visit to the DEA office and museum. Mr. Woods was particularly interesting because of his charismatic personality and passion for his job. I could tell that he really loves the DEA, and he tried hard to recruit my classmates and me to become agents!

Mackenzie Chakara with group of Washington Semester classmatesLast week, we also had a panel of group speakers talk to us about lobbying, which is something I have been seriously considering for my future career. It was great to hear their perspectives on lobbying, as it is a profession that typically receives a negative response. They acknowledged that some lobbyists have given the industry a bad name, but the panel members especially emphasized the importance of lobbying as crucial to the passage of laws. I loved the opportunity to talk to some lobbyists about my specific questions to help me think through my own future plans. I told them how I've often been told to go to law school if I want to be a lobbyist in DC, but they told me it is much more important that I build a strong network in the city. Most of them did not have law degrees, and the one who did recommended I pursue connections with people in Washington above a JD if I don't plan on becoming a practicing attorney. One of the great benefits of being in DC is that I can meet the people who have the types of jobs that interest me and gain wisdom from their personal experiences.

Mackenzie Chakara in front of U.S. Capitol in D.C.My internship is off to a great start! There are about 25 other interns working at Center for American Progress with me, and I have loved meeting other young people there. Most of the other interns are also in Washington just for the semester, although some of them have already graduated, and others go to local universities like George Washington University. The CAP faculty members are all very passionate about their jobs, and I love interacting with them at work; I feel like I learn so much from every single one of them each day!

Most of what I do is research. My favorite part of working for CAP is the intersectionality of the work, because every team has the common goal of working toward Progress. As a member of the Progress 2050 team, I focus on racial justice issues, which allows me to work closely with other teams at the think tank. I have gone to several meetings with the teams focused on women's issues, poverty, education, criminal justice, and the legal team. To that end, I have been able to meet so many amazing people and learn so much about policy areas that I had previously been pretty clueless about.

The culture here is so different from any other place I've ever been, and that is what makes it such a fun experience. Everyone I have met so far has been very friendly and willing to help me in any way they can. I feel like I've added a million people on LinkedIn this month, and am already scheduling coffee dates with half of them. It has been so fun for me to meet so many new people, expanding my network and making new friends. From the incredible guest speakers to my brilliant coworkers and fun classmates, I am most enjoying my time in Washington because of the people.

Washington Semester student ambassador Mackenzie ChakaraMackenzie Chakara Justice and Law

September 18, 2017 | My name is Mackenzie Chakara, and I am a junior at Baylor University enrolled in the Washington Semester Program at American University. I arrived in DC two weeks ago, moved into my first apartment, met my roommate for the first time, started classes at a new school, and began an internship in the Nation's Capital all in a few days. Knowing for months that I was coming to Washington for this program, I had a lot of expectations, but the real experience of coming to this city is beyond what I could have ever imagined.

Martin Luther King Jr. memorial at nightEveryone in my program is really nice, and it is awesome to be in a community of individuals with similar goals to motivate each other and learn from our various experiences. The first weekend of the program, I went "monumenting" with my new friends, which is a common nighttime activity for university students in Washington, DC. We took the metro and walked around some of the monuments, taking in their illuminated beauty against the night sky.

After acclimating myself to the area and doing some of the fun "so DC" traditions, it was time to get to work. The way the Washington Semester Program is designed, I take classes two days a week and get "real-world" experiencing interning in town the other three weekdays. As a student in the Justice and Law concentration, I am learning first-hand about the justice system, with guest speakers from the Attorney General's office, the local police department, and (the one I most look forward to) a visit with a Supreme Court Justice! Being in the Capital City offers us the chance to learn about justice and law in a way that I couldn't in any other city, as we are able to personally engage with the people who write, vote for, and enforce the laws applied not only to DC but to the entire nation.

Outside of my classes, I am interning at a think tank downtown, the Center for American Progress. Before accepting this internship, I had applied to several organizations in town, some Hill internships, and other opportunities because internships here are competitive and I wanted to be sure I had options. In the end, I was lucky enough to have visited CAP's office before starting my semester program, and I loved the staff here and the work they do. My professors at American did a great job advising me in my internship search, making sure that I chose the one that was the best fit for me. I am definitely glad that I went with CAP in the end, and I look forward to the rest of the semester here.

I am working with CAP's Progress 2050 team, researching race policy issues and writing policy memos, managing social media accounts, and eventually getting my work published through the organization. Yesterday was actually my first day interning here, and so far I am loving it! I hope to pursue a career in advocacy for causes I am passionate about, especially concerning social justice. The think tank is a great opportunity for me to develop my research skills, learn more about how policy works, and get experience working in a professional environment with like-minded individuals.

Overall, what I've seen in my first couple of weeks in the city is that there is always something going on in DC! If you get the chance to come here, take advantage of the opportunities all around you to learn something you never knew at one of the museums, appreciate our nation's history at the monuments and memorials, or go to one of the several free events taking place every week. DC is a city that will never bore, and I look forward to a semester of taking it all in!