WASHINGTON, D.C.—As Trinity junior Kate Cummings finished her first long day as an intern, a colleague invited her on a tour of her new office complex. Not just any office. One of the most famous buildings in the world—the White House. Cummings quickly put aside her weariness and hunger and jumped at the chance. They wound through the West Wing, passed the Oval Office, and ended up late in the evening in the Truman Bowling Alley.
“To see rooms where decisions were made that changed the path of the country and corridors where deals were made between world leaders—this is a feeling like no other,” says Cummings, who is 21 and a public policy and law major. “For me, that is my favorite memory, thus far—kind of a sobering and humbling experience.”
Cummings was chosen for the highly competitive slot on her second try—the White House looks for leaders in their communities who are passionate about careers in public service. (Past White House interns include television news anchor Brian Williams and current White House Director of Health Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle.)
Matt Tranchin, head of the White House Office of Public Engagement, where Cummings works, says Cummings brings to the job an upbeat personality, a willingness to learn, and an inquisitive nature. Cummings’s duties include collecting data for projects, escorting people within the White House complex, and helping organize events. And there are, of course, the occasional glimpses of the president himself—she has watched Barack Obama’s helicopter land when he returned from an out-of-town trip and has sat in the audience to hear him speak.
Cummings says she’s learning plenty about the executive branch. She had already gotten a close-up view of the legislative branch during three previous internships with the Senate Small Business Committee and Senator Mary Landrieu of Cummings’s home state, Louisiana.
A strong sense of justice
People who know her well are not surprised to see Cummings land in the White House. “She’s one of the most holistically solid students I think I’ve ever known,” says Trinity’s President Jones. He first got to know her when she signed up for Quest, the College’s wilderness adventure program, in which first-year students learn teamwork and self-reliance. Cummings comes from a large (seven siblings) and close-knit family in New Orleans. The Quest adventure to Canada, she says, was a crucial transition from that world to a new life away from the South and her family. She has become a Quest leader since then and also traveled to Tibet with President Jones and a Trinity group over the last winter break. Jones says he was struck by her spirit of adventure in primitive conditions and by her deep concern for the way Tibetans have been treated.
“She has a strong sense of justice,” agrees U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas P. Smith, who teaches a class called “Introduction to the Law,” which made a strong impression on Cummings. “It’s unusual to detect that in a person at the undergraduate level.”