It’s half an hour before her official work day starts, but Courtney Koos ’16 is already at her desk at The McCain Institute’s offices in Washington D.C. “The best thing about work is coming to the office in the morning and being so excited to be here,” she said. “Honestly I probably get here 30 minutes early every day because I’m just so pumped up and ready to go.” With help from Bowdoin Career Planning’s Strong-Gault Social Advancement Internship Fund, Koos is spending a summer in the nation’s capitol.
Koos’ day as an intern at The Institute is usually divided between communications, event planning, and assisting the executive director of The Institute, Ambassador Kurt Volker, with research and writing projects. Sometimes her days are interspersed with trips to Capitol Hill and other events around D.C.
At Bowdoin, Koos is a double major in government and legal studies and economics, and a minor in Asian studies. She is also captain of the varsity sailing team, and she runs her own marketing and communications consulting firm, CK Communications LLC.
Involving herself directly in the day-to-day functioning of The McCain Institute requires a lot of pivoting between different tasks, especially since The Institute is, as Koos puts it, “a do-tank, not a think tank.” It hosts many events that Koos helps organize, research and find speakers for. “What makes The McCain Institute stand apart from other organizations in D.C. is that the experts here not only strive to find solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems, they are also actively involved in implementing these solutions both domestically and abroad to gauge the effectiveness of these programs,” Koos said.
She is presently working on a national security Conversation and Cocktail event addressing issues of “national security threats associated with failed and failing states,” a topic that she studied in Visiting Assistant Professor of Government Alana Tiemessen’s class Failed States.
Koos is also completing research for Volker, who was the U.S. Ambassador to NATO from 2008 to 2009. “I’ve done a lot of research on Hungary and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán,” she said. “Right now I’m in the middle of researching conceptualizations of the western world and western values.” In addition to this research, Koos also assists Ambassador Volker with various writing projects.
This experience has added value to her government major, Koos noted. “I think a lot of the research that I’ve been doing this summer has really tied in nicely with the different four core areas of government — international relations, philosophy, American government and comparative,” she said. “It’s been really interesting to see the real-world application of the four areas, and then writing on them to learn how to tie it all together.”
In the future, Koos said she wants to continue with the work she has started this summer. “It has really inspired me to pursue this and to make a difference,” through pursing her passions for foreign policy and helping people in post-conflict zones. “I want to find a way to help people in some capacity.”
Koos said she considers herself fortunate to work alongside and learn from experts in the field at The McCain Institute, from Foreign Service Officers and former ambassadors at the Institute, to entrepreneurs on the Institute’s Advisory Council like Jane Mosbacher Morris of To The Market. “Learning how The McCain Institute works to address issues in the non-profit sector and then seeing how Morris is able to address these issues through the private sector has provided me with a comprehensive understanding of how both sectors can work together to make a difference.”
However, she added, “it’s difficult to work in D.C. and to feel the partisan divide here — and in our country. I think that a lot of really important issues that many people agree upon become over-politicized, which hinders our nation’s ability to address them.” In particular, she highlighted the humanitarian projects that The Institute is doing, noting that they ”are related to non-partisan human rights issues, that must be confronted and addressed.”
Koos said that the work The McCain Institute is doing gives her hope. “Working at this non-partisan Institute has been really inspiring because I’ve seen people with very different political beliefs come together to address things that at the end of the day we all think are wrong, whether it be human trafficking, human rights violations more broadly, undemocratic processes, or the abuse of government power,” she said.
Other Bowdoin students with government-related summer internships include Justin Pearson ’17, a Jason R. Baron Public Service fellow, who is working for Congressman Steve Cohen in Washington, D.C., and in Memphis, Tenn.; Ellis Palmieri ’17, a recipient of the Richard B. ’62 and Sabra Ladd Government Internship Grant, who is working for the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Western Hemispheric Affairs in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Nicolas Tonckens ’16, another recipient of the Ladd Government Internship Grant, who is working at The Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C.