Miss Kelz goes to Washington
2017 Medford graduate Mikayla Kelz interned in the vice president’s office
While many college students spent the past semester buried in textbooks, cramming for tests and writing papers, Mikayla Kelz of Medford spent the past semester learning about government first-hand.
Kelz recently completed an internship with Vice President Mike Pence’s office in Washington, D.C. Kelz is a 2017 graduate of Medford Area Senior High School and is currently a junior at UWMadison. She is the daughter of Karl and Nancy Campbell-Kelz of Medford.
Kelz was one of 68 candidates from across the country to be selected to participate in the White House internship program. She was in Washington, D.C. from September through December. While working about 45 hours a week as an intern in the vice president’s office, Kelz also attended classes in the evening through a UW-Madison program allowing her to keep up with her studies.
Kelz was one of seven interns to be selected to work in the vice president’s offi ce. The internship program goes across all the departments in the White House with candidates ranking their choices and being selected to fill spots by the intern office with more senior departments getting first choice from among the candidates.
Kelz worked with Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short in the Eisenhower Executive Office building. A White House internship is very much a hands-on working internship where the interns are expected to carry their weight in the office. In her position, Kelz was called on to write one page briefs on issues before meetings that were used by the vice president as well as working with scheduling and trip coordination. She explained that the vice president takes three to four domestic trips each week and as part of her duties she would help with different aspects of planning for these trips from working with setting up venues to working with stakeholders about the visit.
“As an intern you get weird assignments,” Kelz said, noting that they would get random tasks such as helping to decorate the vice president’s office for Halloween and helping with the trick-ortreating at the White House. In addition she also had jobs of writing biographies of people who would be attending meetings with the vice president to help him prepare for those meetings.
“I got to see what everyone is doing. It was pretty cool,” Kelz said.
Getting an internship at the White House is not easy. Even the application itself is daunting requiring 10 essays and two letters of reference. It was followed by a very long vetting process including an FBI investigation to ensure that the applicants meet security clearance.
“It is a pretty lengthy process,” Kelz said. She explained that after she had applied she had put it out of her mind thinking that there was no way she would get in. In the meantime she applied for other internships and had been just about to commit to one when she learned she was accepted to the White House program. She noted that when you get called to work at the White House saying no is not an option.
According to Kelz one of her biggest takeaways from her experience in the White House was how passionate the people were about wanting to do a good job with their careers and their willingness to help others.
“The people I met in the vice president’s office were willing and helpful,” Kelz said, noting that for many there was an overwhelming sense of gratitude in being able to serve their country.
Kelz also noted that she was pleasantly surprised with the commitment to family that she experienced in the vice president’s office. She said she expected the office to be filled with younger people who were always at work, but instead there were many people with families who would do things like needing to take time off to go to a parent-teacher conference.
“The vice president is very familydriven and values his family,” Kelz said, noting this was reflected in the office.
Kelz said Vice President Pence is exactly how he seems on television as being personable and easy to talk with. “He took time out to meet with interns numerous times,” Kelz said, noting he took them on a tour of his plane, Air Force Two.
One of her most treasured mementos of her time as an intern is a challenge coin that Pence gave her toward the end of her time in Washington, D.C.
Kelz said she was told the vice president wanted to see her in his office and was nervous about why. She had nothing to worry about, and said it was the vice president wanting the opportunity to visit with her. During the conversation, he gave her the challenge coin. He also asked her about her sister, Bethany, who is in the Air Force and had a coin for her. Pence’s son is in the military and for those with a military background challenge coins have a special meaning.
Kelz was impressed that he took the time to ask her about her family. “It shows the type of character he has,” she said. “He is a really good example of a public servant.”
In working with the vice president’s office, Kelz also had the opportunity to meet the president a few times as well as other senior officials. The interns were encouraged to volunteer during events held at the White House outside of their normal work days. This gave her a different perspective on what happens behind the scenes to make things work at the White House compared to what the public sees.
Kelz returned to Wisconsin in December and is looking forward to additional internship opportunities this spring.
As far as her future, Kelz continues to have an interest in public policy. She has developed an interest in working with older Americans and the issues impacting seniors.
“There are so many issues that haven’t been addressed,” she said.
She is not sure if she will pursue graduate school, noting that it seems like everyone in Washington, D.C. is a lawyer.
“I will take my last year and see how it goes,” she said, noting that the thing she has learned is the need to be flexible and take opportunities as they arise.
“God has a plan for me and I am willing to accept whatever that is,” she said.
She noted that as much as God has plans for people, it is also up to people as individuals to do the work necessary to have opportunities. This includes not being daunted by long application processes or the work needed to succeed. “You need to put yourself out there,” she said.
“You need to believe in yourself, you don’t know until you try,” Kelz said.