Interning for a Georgia Congressman during what was certainly one of the most contentious legislative summers in many years taught Alexandra Hebdon the key to constituent service in Washington, DC.
“It’s the little things that matter,” says Alex, a University of Georgia Honors Student who interned for U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) this summer. “While interns are the grunts of the office and they know very little about policy, the majority of the time they actually have their fingers most squarely on the pulse of the constituents.
“We’re the ones who read the emails and answer the calls and scan every single piece of mail that comes into the office. So you should never go to an intern to try to get policy wisdom, but you should go to an intern to see what the public is actually thinking.”
Alex’s time in the nation’s capital has heightened her interest in public service. After she graduates in May 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and a master’s degree in public administration, Alex has plans to follow a career path that ensures “safe space” for Americans.
“I ultimately want to work in public policy,” says Alex, who this fall is serving as a research assistant at the Athens-based BSI Supply Chain Solutions, conducting research on supply chain security. “I want to be a public servant in that regard, whether working on policy in counterterrorism or nuclear nonproliferation. I’d eventually like to go back to school and get a PhD, and way down the road, after working in government as a public servant, I’d like to teach at the university level so that I can help train the next generation of leaders.”
In addition to working in both the public and private sector, Alex served as a Security Leadership Fellow at UGA’s Center for International Trade and Security, learning about weapons of mass destruction and their effect on international trade and security and assisting on various research projects.
Alex was able to get an early start in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) and has taken classes in Strategic Intelligence, Arms Control and Disarmament, American Foreign Policy, and Public Administration and Democracy.
“I’ve been so blessed in SPIA. Everything aligned perfectly for me there,” she says. “I took the one AP credit that got me out of the introductory IR course. So I went straight into SPIA, and my advisor immediately put me in a major-level international affairs class. I had no trouble because I had the prerequisites out of the way.
“In my first semester at Georgia, a professor suggested I get involved with the Center for International Trade and Security. Everybody who was telling me to apply meant I should apply somewhere down the road before I graduated, but I applied for it so early. And they told me to be prepared to be rejected, but somehow they decided to give it to me. I consider Dr. Loch Johnson to be one of my mentors, and he’s a major advisor in helping me know what to do. Everybody is so wonderful.”
Alex has assumed a public servant’s role in Athens, reviving the local chapter of First Book, which provides books for disadvantaged children. She says she decided to reboot First Book-UGA after a mission trip to Guatemala.
“Guatemala opened my eyes, not only because of the realization of all the poverty in the world, but also because I realized again how much I really loved children,” she says. “I’d been making excuses that I was too busy and too active in academic pursuits to help kids. I had thought about doing some tutoring, but my sister and I were looking at nonprofits and stumbled across the First Book web site. I had no idea that in low-income communities, 80 percent of preschool and after-school programs don’t have access to age-appropriate books for their kids. In low-income areas like Athens, the average ratio of books to kids is one book for every 300 children.”
After arranging sponsorship from a host of local entities, Alex and her First Book colleagues were able to put books in the hands of some 600 elementary school students.
“We started the organization and were so blessed,” says Alex, a member of the Dean Wiliam Tate Honor Society, the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, and Alpha Lambda Delta. “The UGA Athletic Association gave us a huge donation to help buy books. We sold lollipops at football games and looked for corporate sponsorship. In the end, we were able to give two books to every child at a Title I school last year. We’re talking 500-600 kids, and we gave away about 1,100 books. It was incredible. Not every child will be hooked on learning, but if you could get a few kids addicted to reading early, that can unlock the cycle of poverty they’re stuck in.”
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