June 26, 2019

From O’Pake Fieldhouse to Pennsylvania Avenue

KU alumna Madison Stewart accepts a once-in-a-lifetime chance to intern at the White House.

Madison Stewart at White House

Clad in cap and gown, Madison Stewart ’18 may have been physically present in O’Pake Fieldhouse, but her mind was nearly 200 miles away, consumed with thoughts of her impending internship at the nation’s capital.

Stewart’s path to a position in the illustrious mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, colloquially known as the White House, was unconventional in nature. A field hockey player by training, she soon identified the characteristic that would come to define her love for politics: a competitive spirit.

“I’m very opinionated,” Stewart acknowledged during a sit-down interview, noting that a drive to win made for a natural progression into the political realm.

From the Office of Communications tasked with overseeing presidential media relations, to the Office of National Drug Control Policy which resonated with a personal desire to resolve the ongoing opioid crisis, many White House offices appealed to Stewart. She ranked her top five, eagerly anticipating her assignment. Stewart finally received her commission once the rigorous process, in which approximately 150 students are selected from an impressive pool of more than 2,000, was completed. She was to report to the Office of Political Affairs (OPA), a small team characterized by profound knowledge of the U.S. political landscape and intimate relationships with key political players.

While unable to disclose details of the office’s day-to-day operations, she nonetheless recounted the tale of one of her favorite moments during her White House Internship Program: conducting background research for the “Made in America” product showcase, which boasted such diverse American-made goods as Tennessee-baked sweets and aircraft carriers prominently stationed on the South Lawn.

“We had to compile lists of companies from each state that fit the guidelines, which was enlightening. You can learn a lot about a state from its homegrown businesses,” Stewart said. “It was a great experience to work with these companies.”

Stewart’s greatest takeaway from her White House Internship Program experience was the robust professional network she built with her supervisors and fellow interns. That network has since propelled her toward an exciting career in politics, so far including political field work in West Virginia during the 2018 election cycle, assisting the Speaker’s Office in the West Virginia House of Delegates during the 2019 legislative session and her current campaign position for the 2020 election cycle.

Stewart said she owes a lot of her success to her KU family, which includes her professors, coaches and teammates. She smiled as she recalled how KU faculty helped her build confidence and gain experience outside of the classroom.

“I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to play collegiate (field) hockey,” Stewart said. “My KU coaches quickly became my biggest fans on and off the field. The first person I told when I got the news that I had been accepted into the internship program was Coach (Marci) Scheuing. There are so many good people at KU who go out of their way to support students; it’s amazing! I also got to perform research with Dr. (Steve) Lem and present it at the Midwest Political Science Association conference in Chicago last year. It was an intimidating but valuable experience getting to present research to political scientists and graduate students who were much more expert in the subject matter than I.”

Her advice to other students thinking about applying to the White House Internship Program is to be sure they take their time with the application. Stewart said that researching the offices she wanted to be in and knowing their role in supporting the President helped her be more specific during the application process. Her advice for students looking to attend KU and take up the political science major is to get involved outside the classroom and create a strong network with fellow students, faculty and members of the community. Stewart believes that internships are an excellent way to build a resume and that students should aim to diversify their experience, especially if they are unsure about what direction to take in their field.

“Your college years are so unique, and I think KU is a really conducive environment for students to grow as individuals. KU pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to set my goals high,” Stewart said.

When asked where she saw her career taking her, Stewart beamed.

“I’m not entirely sure, but that’s the beauty of this dynamic field. I developed a deep appreciation for the state of West Virginia and I’d love to one day manage a statewide race there,” Stewart said. “Beyond that, I am inspired by the idea of playing a significant role in future presidential campaigns, maybe even the one of the first female president of the United States.”

Related Information

By Samantha Koller M'20, Communications Graduate Assistant

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