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From Music to Messaging: Student Lands on Capitol Hill

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Jake McClory
Graduate student Jake McClory is a communication intern in a U.S. Senate office.

American University School of Communication (AU SOC) Political Communication MA student Jake McClory just wrapped up working in a coveted internship position in a U.S. Senate office on Capitol Hill as a communications intern; an impressive accomplishment, particularly given that he transitioned to the field from an established career in music just months before applying. McClory is a first-year student in the Political Communication MA program

In his Principles of Strategic Communication class in the fall, Professor Lenny Steinhorn asked each student to analyze a campaign for a specific candidate or organization. McClory chose a Midwest Democratic senator's campaign and talked to the senator's press secretary, whom Steinhorn had taught a few years before. 

About a month after completing this assignment, McClory applied for a communications internship position in the senator's office and used the campaign analysis that he wrote as a writing sample for his application. 

As a communications intern, McClory received first-hand experience working on Capitol Hill and has seen how congressional offices interact with the press and how things work behind the scenes. He helped staff the senator for TV and radio interviews around the Capitol, facilitated photos during weekly constituent meetings and attended press conferences and various events for the senator. McClory also gained experience writing speeches, talking points and press releases. 

"It was a lot of work," McClory said. "I was lucky to be working for a senator who is easy going and gets along with just about anybody. Even in this really polarized environment, it's great to see that there's still a lot that the two parties can come together to get done—when they put in the effort." 

McClory put the work that was required of him during the first semester to good use during his internship.

"I felt like i understood what was behind a lot of the decisions that the senior staff made every day based on the theories, case studies and readings I've done for my classes," he said. 

McClory, who majored in Choral Music Education at the University of Michigan, got his first taste of working in politics as a volunteer Neighborhood Team Leader on Barack Obama's 2012 presidential campaign. In this position, he did mostly field work—registering people to vote, canvassing homes, leading phone banks and meeting with supporters and volunteers. 

A few months into that position, he was asked to work with a campaign speech writer to craft an introduction for Michelle Obama and then delivered it in a conference call with other Michigan volunteers and supporters. 

"It was a really cool experience, both working with a speech writer and introducing the First Lady," McClory said. "I realized my interest in politics had become more than just a hobby—or at least I wanted it to become more than just a hobby." 

After spending a few more years music directing at a youth theater in Michigan, teaching privately and in schools and also making a move to Colorado, the idea of working in politics would not go away. He started looking at graduate programs and came across the AU Political Communication program. 

McClory said two things stood out to him when he was considering the Political Communication program. He was impressed with the faculty and their credentials and how they have experience in the communications field and have so many connections to the communications professionals in DC and around the country. He was also impressed with the Campaign Management Institute, a two-week intensive course he completed earlier this semester. 

In this course, students spend all day hearing from different professionals currently working as political strategists, consultants and campaign managers. Then students worked in teams to create a hypothetical campaign plan for real candidates.

He said he was also impressed with the number of guest speakers who come to his classes. 

"From Game Debenedetti at POLITICO to Carrie Dann at Meet the Press Daily to Peter Hart of Hart Research, our professors are always trying to bring in top professionals in the industry," he said. "We've probably heard from close to 30 and the year's not over."