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Hildebrand had memorable summer interning at the White House

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Emma Hildebrand ’21 spent a summer “beyond belief” in Washington, D.C., and if events break right in her post-Monmouth College career, it won’t be her last time in the nation’s capital.

A political science major from Mendon, Ill., Hildebrand was one of 106 White House summer interns.

“I wanted to do something big,” said Hildebrand, who’s been politically active during her first two years at Monmouth. “I didn’t really think I’d get the White House internship. I had originally lined up an internship with Congressman Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), so I would’ve been on the Hill this summer.”

Hildebrand, who worked in the office of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2018, was a White House intern from late May through mid-August.

“It was beyond belief,” she said of the experience. “Every single day, I’d walk through the gates on Pennsylvania Avenue. I got to live in a little historical bubble all summer. All the experiences I had, all the people I met, all the memories I made – I don’t know how it could be topped.”

Tending to political affairs

Thanks to her experience on political campaigns, Hildebrand was assigned to the Office of Political Affairs, which is headquartered in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, just west of the White House. The Office of Political Affairs develops, supports and advances partnerships in support of the President and his policy agenda. Interns like Hildebrand assist in political analysis, opinion research and direct outreach to key constituencies.

“I did a lot of outreach,” said Hildebrand, who lived on the campus of American University throughout the summer. “Another important task was vetting people – figuring out if the President should support that person and asking ‘What’s the best move?’”

Hildebrand was also tasked with opinion research duties.

“We were looking at student loan debt, gun control measures – hot topics like that,” she said. “We also monitored the Democratic presidential nominees and how the debates impacted things. I really enjoyed that a lot.”

Through a speaker series for interns, Hildebrand had the opportunity to hear from Special Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. She also passed Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner “just walking down the hallway like regular people.”

Of course, there are two White House officials with even larger roles than those individuals, and Hildebrand had memorable encounters with both.

“I saw Vice President Pence three or four times,” including once as he came off an elevator right in front of her. “He has a weekly Bible study, and he was there for some of those. He’s one of the most genuine politicians I’ve ever met.”

Hildebrand’s encounter with President Trump came on a hot summer day when she and the other interns were “sweating like nothing else” as they waited to be posed for a group photo.

“He walked out of the West Wing and spoke to us all for about 20 minutes, taking some questions,” she said. “It was absolutely awesome. And I realized he’s a giant! He’s 6-5.”

Plans for the future

In addition to the learning experiences and memories she made, Hildebrand gained something else during her time in Washington: advice on what to do after she graduates.

“Going into the summer, the plan was law school (after Monmouth),” she said. “But I was advised by almost everyone to take a year or two off after graduating.”

If she does, that delay would be timed with President Trump’s potential reelection in 2020.

“There are some opportunities that could take me back to the current administration. If he gets reelected, I’ll pursue that. If not, law school. I’m actually studying for law school right now,” she said, tapping a textbook in front of her, “so we’ll what happens.”

Hildebrand’s long-term goal is to be a political candidate herself.

“I’m hoping to run for political office, probably at the state level – maybe a state representative or a state senator,” said Hildebrand, who has also worked for Illinois State Sen. Jil Tracy of Quincy. “I’d like to have a position where I can have a lot of face-time with constituents. I really want to help people.”