Janna Deitz (CFP 2011-2012) is Professor of Political Science and Director of Public Leadership and Outreach at Western Illinois University. Her research interests include congressional elections, campaign finance, and women in politics. Following her time as a Congressional Fellow, Professor Deitz developed WIU’s DC Internship Program, which provides junior and senior undergraduates with the opportunity to spend a fall, spring, or summer semester in Washington. Professor Deitz spent her fellowship year in the office of Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL).
Why did you apply to the Congressional Fellowship Program?
I applied because I wanted a front-row seat to the legislative process. I wanted that unique insider view of Congress that would better inform my teaching and research, and I knew that the Congressional Fellowship Program provided the best opportunity to combine an academic approach with practical learning.
What issues did you cover and what types of work did you do for your host office during your fellowship year?
I mainly worked on transportation policy. My work included compiling, analyzing and presenting data from various federal agencies and departments to inform discussions about the transportation bill, MAP-21; meeting with constituents, interest groups, and trade associations with issues connected to this pending legislation; attending relevant congressional hearings and committee meetings (including staff conference committee meetings); tracking the legislative/amendment process; and providing reports as needed. I had some additional exposure to agriculture, education, and labor policy.
What was a typical day in the office like?
A typical day was a schedule filled with constituent/interest group meetings, information-gathering, and writing under a deadline. The office was highly organized and productive and I had a clear sense of where my work fit in with office goals.
What were some of the highlights of the fellowship year?
- CRS training: you may think you know how Congress works…invaluable presentations on process. That manual stays on my shelf to this day.
- Attending conference committee staff meetings on the transportation bill and seeing chamber differences discussed—a rare experience for a Hill staffer these days, let alone a political scientist.
- Seeing a bill I had gotten the chance to work on pass Congress and then be signed into law (MAP-21).
- Traveling to Ottawa and hosting our Canadian counterparts in DC.
- Witnessing newsworthy and historic events: seeing retired Space Shuttle Discovery being flown around the Capitol; standing in front of the Capitol with congressional fellows from Germany when the Affordable Care Act decision was upheld by the Supreme Court; watching NSF funding discussions and debate about your very own discipline.
- Hearing directly from former Congressional Fellows Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein about their book, “It’s Even Worse than it Looks.”
What impact has the CFP experience had on your subsequent career?
The fellowship year had a transformative impact on my career. There is simply no better way to deepen knowledge of public policy, member behavior, and legislative process than the hands-on, direct experience the Congressional Fellowship provides. The fellowship is a testament to the value of experiential learning across different career points and at different types of institutions. As a mid-level career fellow, I left even more committed to drawing connections between the study and practice of politics and public service for my students. The development of a student internship program for students at my institution would not have happened without my own experience as a Congressional Fellow.