For Chris Condon ’19 and Liam Kerr ’18, politics has been a constant passion since middle school. After being politically active since the 2012 election, both saw Gettysburg as the perfect next step in reaching their goal of working on Capitol Hill after graduation.
Gettysburg is located in close proximity to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia, providing students with opportunities to seek out internships and gain work experience—starting as early as their first year.
During their first semester on campus, Kerr and Condon participated in the Eisenhower Institute’s Inside Politics program, a semester-long mentoring experience both on campus and in Washington, D.C. Led by veteran political communications expert and speechwriter Kasey Pipes, the program exemplifies Gettysburg College’s dedication to experiential education and to helping students learn through doing.
One of many skills Kerr and Condon learned? The delicate art of networking.
“I was always nervous to reach out to someone I didn’t know, but it’s Washington D.C. and that’s how it works for getting jobs and building your personal connections,” said Kerr.
During the program’s trip to D.C., participants met with leading experts in politics and the media, like C-SPAN’s Steve Scully and Jamie Fleet ’02, who has served as Chief of Staff for Senator Maria Cantwell and a staff director for the House of Representatives. Access to these figures allowed Kerr and Condon to put their new networking skills to the test.
“The worst-case scenario is that they don’t answer,” reflected Condon. “But there’s really no repercussions for putting yourself out there.”
Condon and Kerr met one another before they were students at Gettysburg—brought together, ironically, through another Institute program. Both participated in the Eisenhower Institute’s Campaigns and Elections Academy, a week-long on-campus summer program that gives high school leaders the opportunity to learn about politics from Gettysburg’s leading professors.
“The summer program really swung the decision to attend Gettysburg for me,” Condon explained. “I liked the campus, the environment, and the fact that it was a smaller school, plus D.C. isn’t that far away.”
Beyond the Inside Politics program and the Campaigns and Elections Academy, both Condon and Kerr have also participated in the Eisenhower Institute’s Strategy and Leadership in Transformational Times program, a yearlong seminar and experiential program aimed at exploring strategic thinking and leadership and led by Susan Eisenhower. Condon and Kerr have also represented Young Americans for Liberty in campus-wide policy debates hosted by the Eisenhower Institute.
Off campus, Condon and Kerr have each pursued several summer internships and jobs on political campaigns or in legislative offices on The Hill. Participating in Gettysburg’s partnership with the American University Washington Semester Program, Condon interned with his congressman’s Capitol office. Last summer, he worked in the Suffolk County, NY Court System. Kerr has worked extensively with Senator Pat Toomey (PA), interning in his state office, working on his reelection campaign in 2016, and working in his legislative office on Capitol Hill last spring.
Both Kerr and Condon quickly learned that another skill they learned in Inside Politics would make them competitive job candidates: memo-writing.
“We wrote lots of memos for Inside Politics,” said Kerr.
“That’s politics. There’s a memo for everything,” added Condon.
Kerr wrote several memos on tax policy, Medicaid, social security, and other entitlement programs during his time in Senator Toomey’s office.
“One or two-page memos are integral to the functioning of Congress,” said Kerr. “I wrote a lot of memos about fiscal responsibility policies—all the stuff that nobody really cares about,” he joked, “but that I really enjoy.”
In addition to the applied skill of memo-writing, Condon and Kerr also learned the ropes of Washington under the guidance of program expert Kasey Pipes. Still, the hands-on experience from the program made the largest impact on the participants.
“Kasey Pipes has so much knowledge about Capitol Hill and the political environment there, but I think he would agree that the most practical part of the program is learning how to write a memo,” said Condon.
Working on Capitol Hill is more than just summarizing policy issues or expanding your professional network, though. Condon remembers stepping into an elevator on the way to the Capitol flag office and meeting Representative Louie Gohmert (TX-01).
“I got there and Representative Gohmert was talking to one of his staffers about Roman history,” Condon said. “The staffer got off and then he just continued his conversation about a recent archaeological discovery with me.”
Whether it’s writing policy memos or parleying with Congressmen, Condon and Kerr’s experiences at Gettysburg prepared them for work in the Capitol.