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The D.C. Upstart

Building connections helped Ian Nicholson land a job on Capitol Hill.

The day after getting his political science degree in 2009, Ian Nicholson packed a bag and headed for Washington, D.C. with the hope of landing an internship or job. This was no impossible dream. Nicholson had already experienced a stint in D.C. as an intern for Senator Ron Wyden in 2008, a position he got simply by applying.

“The Hill is essentially the center of everything on the policy side,” Nicholson says. “I flew out the day after graduation after lining up informational interviews to land another internship, or hopefully my first job after school.”

He was successful.

In 2009, Nicholson interned for Senator Max Baucus of Montana. He followed that with an internship at the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business, a position in the government affairs arm of Target Corporation, and a job with Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank.

Now, Nicholson is back on the Hill working for Wyden again—this time on his Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “I help out with preparations for different hearings, and do a lot of coordination between the Committee’s Staff Director and other Senate offices, interest groups, and the Senator Wyden’s personal office,” Nicholson says. “The networking aspect was crucial to me getting this position. It certainly pays to stay in touch. In order to advance here, you need to be connected.”

As a liberal arts student, Nicholson learned how to analyze and communicate multiple perspectives on a single issue. “My classes were always multidisciplinary; they combined politics, various economic theories, and social systems,” he says.

These skills and broad perspective have been invaluable to him in his work at the Capitol, where he’s frequently required to distill and synthesize complex data sets into brief but comprehensive summaries.

“When I studied energy, I could have looked at it in a very specific way, through the particular subject areas. But those classes are siloed; you’re deeply focused, but you can’t see the whole picture.” he says. “In political science, you get to see everything that impacts decisions.”

Nicholson is also grateful for his language education at Oregon State—he was a Spanish minor and studied abroad. “If you’re looking to get a job on the Hill working for a senator from California, Texas, or Florida, chances are they’ll look at candidates able to speak Spanish,” he says. “The ability to speak multiple languages is only becoming more relevant.”

Nicholson is still deciding about the future. “In 10 years I could definitely see myself  on the Hill as a legislative assistant, or possibly a legislative director one day. It depends on what issues get me going in the next year or two,” he says. “Right now I’m getting a lot of great experience to draw from.”


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