Country Girl Tackles Homelessness and the DC Metro as USICH Intern

Let me start with a little background. My name is Mel Sullivan and I am a fourth year LINK-2-LEAD doctoral scholar at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in the Specialized Educational Services department. My focus is on how institutes of higher education (IHEs) and school districts prepare or train teachers to work with students experiencing homelessness or in foster care. In my future career as a teacher educator, I hope to improve teacher development in this area, in addition to emphasizing collaboration between professionals in education, social work, counseling, and administration. While I happened upon this research topic somewhat by chance, it has become personal to me, as I discovered I have close friends who experienced homelessness during their youth.

When I set out to find a summer internship at a national organization focused on homelessness, I did not anticipate finding one in policy. But, I saw a tweet from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) that said they were looking for interns, so I figured I would give it a shot. After a few months, several conference calls, and an epic apartment hunt, I was ready to move to D.C. for my six-week internship! Let me just say here that I am not a city girl; I prefer being in the middle of nowhere. So in addition to a new job, metropolitan life was going to be a completely new experience.

On my first day, I walked the six blocks from my apartment to the nearest metro station, rode the train for five stops, and walked another two blocks to the USICH office. (It only took me that day of walking in my heels to realize I needed to wear flip-flops and carry my shoes in my bag!) As a visitor, I went through the security scanner and signed in at the front desk. I gave the security guard my ID and waited for someone from USICH to come downstairs to claim me. (I did this for three weeks, until my temporary ID came through, becoming great friends with the security team!)            

When I entered the office, a few people were already there, typing away as the glow of screens reflected on their faces. Everyone I was introduced to welcomed me warmly. I already had my own cubicle, complete with a computer and USICH e-mail account. I felt like part of the office and I hadn’t even been there an hour. I soon realized that’s just the USICH way. Everyone is incredibly supportive, respectful, and flexible.         

Even though my time at USICH was short, I had a full experience. I watched as each person on the policy team focused not only on his or her own project, but also supported the projects of every other team member. I experienced the time and effort it took to coordinate with other government agencies. I listened to the alphabet soup of acronyms associated with both government and homelessness. (Luckily, they always stopped to explain a new one to me.) I helped as teams took on project after project with short turnaround times and still generated quality deliverables. I marveled at the adherence to meeting times. Without fail, they ended every meeting on time; if it was early, they always pointed it out. But mostly, during my time with USICH, I learned. 

One of the best parts of my internship was being involved in the preparation for the summer Council meeting. I helped draft a report to Council on youth homelessness, assisted two expert community presenters as they perfected their presentations, and sat in on many prep meetings leading up to the Council meeting. And I was at that meeting, in a room with people who report directly to the President of the United States. And, I am proud to say I also had a hand in a forthcoming report to Congress. Speaking of Congress, I even did some of my personal research at the Library of Congress on several occasions. Not bad for six weeks!

My next comment will sound biased, but it’s the truth. This was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing professional experiences I’ve ever had. I learned more at USICH in six weeks than I could have in a year of researching policy on homelessness on my own. USICH is an essential piece of the puzzle to ending homelessness, and I have never worked with such a fantastic group of people so committed to their cause. So let me emphasize again what an incredible learning experience this was and how grateful I am that I was able to be part of it. 

Join our team as intern! We’re currently accepting applications.


Mel Sullivan served an an intern with during the summer of 2015, and we think she’s great, too! This internship was supported by Grant #H325D110071 from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs Research to Practice Design. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of that agency. 

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