All posts by laurenwilsonn

Week Five: The Big Day Has Arrived!

So let me break this down by day:

Saturday: All 500 fellows have arrived at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in D.C. from 9:00AM-nearly 11:00PM.  As part of their “registration”, they received their credentials, business cards, information/programs on the weeks activities, taxback information, room keys/assignments, departure dates/times, as well as misc. info that was fellow-specific.  The day would have gone nice and smooth, had the hotel followed the contract and had our 250 double rooms prepared by 3:00PM.  Instead, a handful of us had the pleasure of working until 2:00 AM (after starting at 6:00AM set-up) so that we could make sure every fellow had their own bed in a room and had located their luggage.  This issue did carry over into the next day, no matter how hard we fought.  But, hotel management was as helpful as they could be in accommodating those who were without a room for the majority of the evening, and even those of us who were working so late to help sort out the issues.

Sunday: MY. BIG. DAY.  Another early start as many preparations needed to be made before our Smithsonian Welcoming Reception that was going on that evening.  While the fellows were doing tours of the city (or catching up on some much needed rest) all hands were on deck to prepare not only for our evening reception, but also POTUS on Monday morning.  Once 5:00PM rolled around, the Smithsonian team headed off to the Museum of American History to begin set-up and 7:00 came quickly.  The museum was stunning for the evening, and everyone in attendance enjoyed the event.  Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, as well as Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, spoke that evening.  At the end of the night, we had roughly 800-900 who attended the reception, including several African Ambassadors, members of the White House and State Department, and Congressmen, women, and Senators.  


Monday:  How cool is your internship when you get to hear the President of the United States speak, only 50 feet away from you?  Pretty cool if you ask me.  Starting at 6:00AM, the President’s Advance Team swept the area.  The hotel was buzzing with excited fellows waiting in line to get prime seating, as well as our extended list of observers.  Unfortunately, I missed Secretary of State, John Kerry, speaking due to other responsibilities, but in that time, I was able to greet several members of Congress and Senate, as well as Ambassadors.  This resulted in some interesting conversations, especially with Senator Chris Coons.  Once I had finished my greeting duties,  was able to be a part of the select few employees that could go into the President’s Town Hall.  Being that it was a Town Hall, after President Obama’s initial remarks, the rest of the time was spent on Q&A. Nothing rehearsed. No questions previously chosen.  Every thing asked and responded was on-the-spot.  And our fellows did not hold back from asking the President tough questions regarding acknowledgment of the smaller African nations, not just the “well-known” ones, and even issues regarding nationwide healthcare/opportunities.  He handled every question well, not dodging the bullet.  Later on in the day, we also held our United States Government Expo, were several government agencies had the opportunity to set up booths and speak with the fellows regarding future career opportunities and interests.  We also had our “Lightning Talk” Sessions where a panel of selected fellows presented in 4 different rooms on the things that they had learned in their training over the summer and how they can take it back to their own countries to promote growth and development.


Week Four: 5 Business Days Away!

My task of the week: call every Representative of Congress, every Senator, every Ambassador, and basically anyone who is pretty important. My issue for the week: NOBODY ANSWERS THE PHONES, E-MAILS, OR GIVES PERSONAL CONTACT INFO TO STRANGERS. So after calling over 300 officials, listening to some very terrible “please hold” tunes, and a handful of dead ends, I finally got in contact with all of these invitees. Our office brought on several temps to help out in the days winding down and two were especially wonderful with helping me with all of my tasks. I don’t know if I mentioned it previously, but I had also been assigned to coordinating volunteers from the Hill, Department of State, IREX, or friends of friends, for the big event. At this point, we were constantly contacting them, creating and re-creating volunteer spreadsheets, and trying to figure out how many people we would need for such important events. Needless to say, we did not expect it to be as big of a task as it ended up being until we were a day away trying to coordinate 15 volunteers for airport pick-ups.

In the winding down days, everyone was coming into work early, and working hours overtime. It was stressful beyond belief, but like they say at weddings, it was going to happen no matter what, so what’s done is done, and what isn’t won’t be.

Turns out, we were so far ahead of the game in other aspects, that things ended up working out pretty well and we impressed a lot of people.

Stay tuned! The end of Week Five will hold some pretty great updates!

Week Three: The Clock Is Ticking

I am a little behind on posting (given the circumstances) so I’ll have to pick my brain at what fun week three held. We were still in the works of preparing for the event and I was informed that I would be staying at the Omni Shoreham Hotel with our staff in order to be ready to work at every hour of the day. As our invitation list for the Smithsonian grew, so did my stress levels. We proceeded sending out endless invitations on a daily basis, and I was also pulled onto other tasks for the Summit events.

(I’m going to leave this one short and sweet because it was basically a repeat of week two.)

Also, I got to see the incredible Darwin Kysor when he so kindly visited his DC interns and took us all for (what was my first experience) Thai food!

Week Two: Coffee Is Greater Than Sleep

My second week at IREX has come to an end and it was just as busy, if not more than my first week. Our invite list has grown from senators to MBA players to actors, and even the founder of Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, I know a decent amount of people aren’t making it, but we are reaching for the stars with this invite list. It is so great to be in a position where I get to send out personal invitations to members of the Hill and CEOs of major corporations. On top of it, I also had the pleasurable tasks of calling endless African embassies in DC to invite the ambassadors themselves to our events. As the week was winding down, our tasks became more defined as to who will be in charge of what when the week of the Summit comes around. Although our schedules are not yet finalized and only our Program Officers and Supervisors are creating our staffing schedule, I am eager to see what my role will be while the madness is going on in two weeks! I have also been coordinating our volunteers by contact them, figuring out their availability, and making their schedules. For the most part, this week has just been a continuation of last week, but as our invites begin to go out for the Expo and Smithsonian Welcome events, things will be getting more and more hectic. Can’t wait to see what I’ll be getting into tomorrow!

Oh, and did I mention that I now go to work and hour before the office opens, and usually leave late? Growing up is fun!

Week One: IREX in a nutshell.

As any new internship or job starts, your first few days are nice and easy, getting to know the staff, learning about the company, and dipping your toes in the water of your new job. Not for me! I got to dive head first into a handful of projects before the end of my first day.  After the typical HR, supervisor, and basic intro meetings, I was quickly assigned tasks from quite a few different people.  I am hired to work on the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative, but more specifically our Summit.  The Summit is at the end of July, and consists of 5 days of bringing all 500 fellows, plus University reps, members of Congress and hundreds of other important people in and around DC to the Omni Hotel and Resort where countless lectures, interviews, and information sessions will be held.  (Including discussions from both the President and the First Lady!) To start out, I was arranging the Arrival to Summit and Departure after Summit spreadsheets in order for our staff to know where each fellow will/needs to be and when/how we will get them there.  This task quickly got put to the bottom of the pile though, as I had spent the majority of the remainder of the week (and am still finishing it up) the list for our Smithsonian Welcome Reception on July 27.  This reception will include of 1,000 people from all around the world, whether they are fellows, ambassadors, from the Hill, corporations, NGOS, etc. You name it, they’re invited. I have gotten countless e-mails of new people to add to the list, while going through and finding the full names, titles, contact information, etc. of each person on the list.  As we are finally winding this project down, I have also been re-creating/editing each University’s (there are 20 in which our fellows are located) Executive Summary of their individual program, and I have also been coordinating and creating the schedule with members of the Department of State who are volunteering at the Summit.  


So needless to say, it has been quite the first week at IREX and the rest of the summer will only get busier!

P.S. I joined our company’s softball team, the Tashkent Totalitarians, and we won the first game I played in! WooHoo!