It all began when I was one of 11 STEM educators honored with an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship by the Department of Energy. I was then selected for a Congressional placement and, after an interview process, was matched with the Office of Senator Al Franken (D-MN). As a comedian, writer, and politician, Al Franken has been a longtime hero of mine. It was incredible to work directly with Senator Franken to help improve the quality of education for students in Minnesota and across the nation.
Senator Franken is a member of the Senate’s Health Care, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and he is a champion for many education issues that I care about such as improving STEM education, expanding mental health care in schools, and improving access to accelerated learning courses. In addition to the K-12 issues, I was also able to work on a number of higher education priorities this year, including making college more affordable and holding predatory for-profit colleges accountable. Generally, I conducted legislative research, met with national education stakeholder groups, participated in meetings/hearings, and worked on a variety of writing tasks including drafting remarks and memos.
Certainly, this year has been an exciting time in K-12 education, as the re-write of No Child Left Behind, eight years overdue to be reauthorized, began to move. Now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) this legislation directly affects nearly 50 million students and 3.4 million teachers in the nation’s 100,000 public schools. I helped write Dear Colleague letters to the conference leadership for preservation of Senator Franken's provisions in the final bill: STEM Education, Native American Language Immersion, Accelerated Learning and Mental Health in Schools. When my boss was officially named a conferee, I was able to staff him in conference meetings.
The Albert Einstein Fellowship Program gives expert practitioners a voice in national education policy, and I am now a very proud alumna. As a Congressional Fellow, I was afforded the opportunity to immerse myself in the life of a Hill staffer and make contributions to national K-12 and postsecondary education. My accomplished cohort of Fellows enriched my experience, and I want to acknowledge how much I learned from each of them. I am grateful for my family and friends for supporting me through this fellowship year. Most of all, I want to express appreciation for Senator Franken, his legislative team, and all his staff. I had an unforgettable year in Washington, DC, but I am excited to resume my teaching practice and get back into the classroom!