Belfast Girl Taking on Capitol Hill
Shannan is a second year BSc Honors student studying Social Policy with Criminology at Ulster University and is an elected Course Representative on Ulster University’s Student Union Council. She served two terms on the Belfast City Youth Forum where she held the role of Chairperson, during which she actively worked with politicians to incorporate and raise awareness of young people’s views in politics, and developed projects dealing with issues pertinent to many young people’s lives and wellbeing in Northern Ireland. Shannan is passionately involved with voluntary work in her local community. She has managed projects that have increased employability skills, and employment with local enterprises, within the community youth sector. Shannan has had extensive involvement with many third sector organizations – as well as with local MLAs, the Equality Commission and Northern Ireland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People – towards improving the lives and futures of our youth living in deprived communities in Northern Ireland.
Social Policy with Criminology
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick
Kitty Wach & Peter Ellsworth
August 3rd, 2017
As a girl from the Lower Shankill in Belfast, I would never have dreamt that I would have been part of the WIP 2017 class. Living in Washington D.C., working in a congressional office and participating in amazing service activities such as Life Pieces to Master Pieces, has been the best experience of my life. Being part of the WIP class of 2017, has helped me learn more about myself as an individual but also developed many of my skills which I will bring back to Northern Ireland/ Ireland to better the future of our country. I have had many amazing experiences ranging from working with a congressional office and learning about the politics of the US; to participating in a Ride along with the Metropolitan Police Department; to enjoying the monuments and museums in my free time. This is only a snipit of the summer and I cannot put it into words how amazing this experience has been.
Working for a congressional office scared me at first. I remember finding out I was chosen to be working with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and wondering why me? There are so many people that know more than me. Spending the past 6 weeks in my internship I have to thank WIP for this amazing experience and thank Congressman Fitzpatrick and his staff for making my summer so worth while.
Within my internship I had numerous roles. I had to serve the people of the 8th District by answering constituents concerns that they voiced via email, telephone or mail. It amazed me how accurate the saying “working for the people” actually is in regard to the US political system. All concerns voiced by the constituents of the 8th District meant something to the Congressman and he aimed to help. The participation and involvement of constituents in Politics amazed me. Every day we got calls from many of people expressing their concerns or feelings towards policy making. This is astonishing and I feel this should be the way forward in Northern Ireland/ Ireland. We should have more civic engagement with people that will be effected by the policies government aims to bring in. How can you expect to be successful if you don’t listen to the people you are supposed to represent?
As an intern, one of my main roles were to give tours of the Capitol Hill. Yes a Belfast girl gave a tour of Capitol Hill to American citizens. Comedic. This was so scary! I was so afraid of messing up! Before taking my first tour I studied the handbook on the history for about two days. It was like going into a history exam, trying to remember facts and dates. As I was giving my first tour, the guy was so interested in telling me his stories as I told him stories of the building, it helped me not be so nervous and gave me a better insight in to how American’s view their history. Whilst giving tours I quickly understood that congressman and congresswomen passed me everyday. Whilst looking for the congressional pin, I realised that even though I was taking the tours I still felt like the tourist getting excited every time someone important walked past me. While learning my way around the Capitol Building and through the tunnels I got lost numerous times, but on my journey I found the Senate side, Dunkin Donuts and the Library of Congress. Sometimes getting lost is the best way to find a new direction.
I also sat in on Briefings and subcommittee hearings which gave me a better insight to the American Political system. My favourite briefing I attended was a Homeland Security Briefing. As a criminology student I am interested in understanding what constitutes as political violence and the measures the government take to prevent or limit terrorism. The Briefing I attended explained how the safety of the people is crucial and how they will protect the US citizens from terrorist attacks. The subcommittee had three witness which they questioned to gain better expertise around this topic. This hands on experience amazed me and gave be great knowledge into a field I will be studying next semester when I return to University. Learning about what the US does to ensure the safety of the country was fascinating. Hearings and Briefings were Brilliant! I was able to witness first hand what open subcommittees where doing and aiming to do for the future.
My office was so friendly and welcoming. Regardless of me being a Belfast girl I was treated the exact same as everyone else. Congressman Fitzpatrick was very welcoming and inquisitive about where I came from and how he and his staff could help me get the best experience possible. Michael McCabe overlooked all of the interns for the summer. He insured that we all had constructive work to do and that we were learning every day. Some of the duties I participated in included: going to a press release and watching Congressman Fitzpatrick support a bill, helping to prepare for floor speeches, researching and creating a cosponsor request for the congressman to read and attending events on Capitol Hill.
One memorable day on Capitol Hill was the ACPA event ‘PAWS for celebration’ where they brought dogs to congress. Maybe if we took this tactic and used puppies in Stormont we could see a more peaceful, prosperous future for the Emerald Isle in which we live.
From this once in a lifetime experience I have gained so much knowledge around how the US political system works, how important constituent issues are and how important it is to respond and act on the needs of your District. I have learnt some amazing things that I want to bring home to Northern Ireland/ Ireland to better the future. I wish all the best to Congressman Fitzpatrick and all his staff. Thank you for an amazing summer.