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Justin Spooner

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Candidate, Nebraska Legislature

What are your best memories from Semester in Washington? What parts of the program did you enjoy the most?

“My best memories from SIWP are unique.  They aren’t necessarily from something I learned in the classroom or experienced in my internship.   They are the experiences I had because of the opportunities SIWP gave me living in Washington D.C.  On my first day in Washington, Rep. Gabby Gifford’s survived an assassination attempt that unified Congress to a point that both parties sat amongst each other instead of on separate sides of the aisle during the 2011 State of the Union Address.

Perhaps the most memorable experience was on May 2, 2011—one of the final nights of the SIWP program.  I was gathered with all of my friends from the program, watching TV when suddenly we are told by President Obama of the death of Osama bin Laden.  The moment we heard the news, our group ran out of the apartments and dashed down Pennsylvania Ave headed straight for the White House. Once we got there we joined thousands of students expressing their patriotism and love for the United States.  To this day, the night of singing, dancing, and rejoicing in the events of May 2 will go down as one of the best nights of my life.”

Where did you intern during SIWP? What was that experience like? How did it help you get where you are today?

“While in DC I interned for Nebraska US Senator Ben Nelson.  I had previously worked for Ben Nelson back home in Nebraska, and was offered a position in DC when I told them I’d be going to George Washington for SIWP.  The experience was awesome.  From handling constituent calls and visits, to giving countless tours of the Capitol building, there wasn’t a dull moment.  While in Senator Nelson’s office I was able to help during the uprisings and revolution in Egypt, the tsunami in Japan, the budget crisis of 2011 and the near government shutdown.  Then during the final week of the internship, bin Laden was killed.  It was an exciting time to work in the US Senate.

The internship played an integral part in getting me to where I am today.  Since my time in DC, I interned for Senator Nelson again in Omaha.  I was then able to use that experience to gain a job as a Legislative Page in the Nebraska Legislature.  After my time as a page, I began interning for US Senator Mike Johanns in Lincoln, NE.  It is safe to say that I wouldn’t have been able to have the proper experience for those roles if it wasn’t for my time in DC and in the SIWP. “

Please describe your current position. What is a day in your work life like?

“I currently work as the Development Associate for the Jewish Federation of Omaha.  In this capacity I am one of 3 people tasked with annually raising 3 million dollars.  On top of that, the Jewish Federation of Omaha is a 19 million dollar organization that provides communal and social services to Jews locally, nationally, and across the globe.”

How has SIWP helped you over the course of your career? Are there lessons you learned in class/the practicum/your internship that you still use?

“In terms of my professional career, I am learning a lot of what I am tasked with from my coworkers and mentors.  However, I am also a candidate for the Nebraska Legislature, which is where more of what I learned at SIWP has been utilized. 

Over the course of the last year I have been actively building my campaign for the Nebraska Legislature.  The classes I took at GW prepared me for understanding the ins and outs of campaigns.  The practicum we participated in has given me knowledge of the many different rolls and functions that are in a campaign.  And most importantly, the people that I met have given me the motivation to move forward with my campaign.

What I believe is the most inspiring part of the Semester in Washington Program is the people you meet.  Never in my life had I been around such a wonderful group of students.  Although we were all from different areas, came from different backgrounds, and had different aspirations, we had one common goals—to better ourselves and the world we live in.  To this day I still remember almost all of my classmates and remain in constant contact with many of them.  I will always cherish the things I learned and the people I met through the SIWP.”

Anything else interesting? Any words of wisdom for prospective or current students?

“Thanks to a lot of what I learned in SIWP I have been able to successfully run my own campaign for the Nebraska Legislature.  Although the primary election is still weeks away, we have had so much support and help that I am extremely confident on our chances.  My campaign would not be possible without the skills and friendships I made in SIWP.  My internship gave me the right connections to navigate the waters of Nebraska politics.  My classes gave me the education background to succeed on the campaign trail. Most importantly, my friends have given me the motivation to win.

I encourage anyone and everyone who hopes to affect positive change in the world to attend Semester in Washington.  I would not be where I am at without it, and I can positively say that it is one of the greatest experiences of my life.”