STEM Majors’ Career Horizons Expand in Washington, D.C.

Washington Program Facts

The Washington Program places UC Davis students in the University of California Washington Center (UCDC) to live, intern and study in the nation’s capital for an academic quarter. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Information sessions are held frequently throughout the year.

Shanon Astley ’13 has advice for STEM majors about how to advance their careers.

“Students majoring in science may write it off, but there is so much opportunity in D.C.,” she says.  “The work being done on [Capitol] Hill is relevant to every field, because policy is being made in every field.” Currently in medical school at UC San Diego, the biochemistry and molecular biology major interned with U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui of California

You may think that a quarter in Washington is only for political science or international relations majors, but think again. In addition to the federal government, Washington, D.C., is home to the central offices of many nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations that advance important causes.

UC Davis students, many focused on the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, have spent productive time at organizations including NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Civil Liberties Union, Genetic Alliance, the Jane Goodall Institute, the U.S. National Arboretum, the American Society for Engineering Education, the American Chemical Society and the Sierra Club.

Students spend a quarter in Washington, D.C.

Through the Washington Program, UC Davis students can spend a quarter in Washington, D.C., living at the University of California Washington Center (UCDC) with fellow students from all the sister UC campuses.

The UCDC is also home to the for-credit classes taught each quarter on topics such as international policy and development, Washington media, the politics of water policy and human rights.

Prominent guest speakers from business leaders to Supreme Court justices give talks, and students have access to special events and tours. To participate, students apply to Washington Program, which recruits, selects and prepares students for success, including how to secure your dream internship and what to wear your first day on the job.

Read about what these Aggies experienced during their internships through the UCDC.

From the FAA to the Federal Reserve

Emily Kaar ’17 was a double major in mathematical analytics and operations research and economics. Just before she graduated, Emily interned as a safety analyst with the Federal Aviation Administration, analyzing a risk model identifying causes of aviation accidents. She coded metric dashboards, analyzed data reports — and discovered and corrected a contractor error in model formulation.

Through my internship with FAA, I learned that I want to pursue a career as an analyst. I now know more than any person needs to know about small airplanes and discovered that safety data matters. — Emily Karr ’17

Emily’s internship paid off. Within months of graduating, she became a full-time policy analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, working on optimization models and analyzing cash trends. She is continuing her passion for data and coding, and has already presented optimization models to senior management — another important skill gained during her Washington internship.

"UCDC was a great transition from school to the ‘real world’ of working," Emily says. "I worked 30 hours a week and took one class. There was a great internship staff that helped me learn to navigate the work world, find a little extra support in how to deal with awkward office politics, understand managerial egos and learn what ‘business casual’ means."

Combining science and communication

Jennifer Boyer standing in an office
Environmental science and management major Jennifer Boyer ’16 interned at the American Council on Renewable Energy, returning to UC Davis briefly to work for the John Muir Institute of the Environment. (UC Davis photo)

Environmental science and management major Jennifer Boyer ’16 interned at the American Council on Renewable Energy, a national nonprofit dedicated to advancing the renewable-energy sector through market development, policy changes and financial innovation.

Describing herself as “a STEM major with a liberal arts personality,” she says her internship created a pathway to a meaningful career that combines her cross-disciplinary passions for people and the environment.

“I created fact sheets about how the renewable energy industry is sparking job creation and economic growth across the country and revitalizing areas in the nation’s rust belt,” Jennifer says. “I also wrote about how states are implementing policies to create diverse energy portfolios and clean energy standards.”

The fact sheets were displayed at outreach booths at NASCAR races in Illinois and Kansas. By syncing research and analytics with communication skills, Jennifer reached hundreds of people.

After the Washington, D.C., experience, she returned to UC Davis to publish research with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Then, after graduating, she worked as a community organizer to activate voices for environmental justice and action in Chicago.

Jennifer returned to UC Davis for a short time to work for the John Muir Institute of the Environment and then went to a consulting firm managing communications, graphic design and client relations. Soon, she leaves for Hong Kong for a yearlong teaching and research fellowship in science and communication.

Medical research at top national facilities

UC Davis students bound for careers in medicine have taken advantage of the UCDC program to get an internship throughout the National Institutes of Health, the nation’s medical research agency. Internships have been at the NIH’s Center for Cancer Research, National Eye Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute.

During her time at the national capital, neurobiology, physiology and biology major Mor Alkaslasi ’15 interned in the Laboratory of Neurogenetics at the National Institute on Aging, where she contributed to research on Parkinson’s disease. Now a research associate in the Thomsen Laboratory at Cedars-Sinai in Beverly Hills, she is researching ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

In addition, the Children’s National Health System (formerly Children’s National Medical Center) has hosted nearly 20 UC Davis interns over the past decade — many destined for medical school. Samson Makonnen ’08, now a medical student at the University of Texas — Medical Branch, said that his internship “was a great step into the path that led me to medicine.”

Introduced to international nutrition possibilities

For nutrition science major Sarah Kehl ’13, an internship at the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion was the start of a Washington career.

After graduating from UC Davis, she returned to the national capital to earn her master’s degree in public health through George Washington University’s Department of Global Health, specializing in program design, monitoring and evaluation. 

Kehl served in Nairobi, Kenya, as a Global Health Service Fellow with the World Food Programme, and at World Vision International in Washington, D.C. Now a fellow at the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, she works in monitoring and evaluation for the center’s international engagement and import activities.

Sharon Knox is director of communications for Undergraduate Education. She shares stories of the intellectual adventures of undergraduates at UC Davis. Sharon has traveled the world and studied at University of Maryland, St. John’s College in Santa Fe and University of Chicago. Her intern, Will Han, contributed to the story. He is a fourth-year majoring in neurobiology, physiology and behavior.

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