Summer Internship Gives Ashbrook Teacher Insight into Congress

December 24, 2020

“Although Congress’s approval rating is at an all-time low, the members and their staffs are working tirelessly to address constituents’ concerns,” observes high school teacher Michelle Holowicki.  “Perhaps our expectations of what government should do have simply grown too big.” A graduate of Ashbrook’s Master of Arts in American History and Government (MAHG) program, Holowicki spent four weeks this summer interning in the Congressional office of Republican Congressman Dan Benishek of Michigan’s 1st District.

The month in Washington showed Holowicki that “Congressmen have an astounding number of issues to study, not just in their own immediate committee areas. Hardworking staff play a critical role in briefing representatives and helping them communicate with constituent groups.”

Holowicki in class
Ashbrook Teacher Michelle Holowicki

Holowicki teaches AP US History and an integrated government and economics course at Brighton High School in Michigan. She earned her Master’s in Ashbrook’s graduate program in 2012. A portion of her studies was made possible by being her state’s recipient of the James Madison Fellowship.

Madison Fellows who have completed graduate work may apply for the Congressional internship opportunity. The program gives one teacher hands-on experience in the legislative branch each summer. Holowicki was uniquely qualified to apply for this opportunity, in part because of her time at Ashbrook. She had thought carefully about powers accorded to the federal government when she wrote her MAHG thesis on the Founding. In fact, the quality of her work was so high that her thesis earned her the MAHG Chairman’s award. The MAHG program’s focus on primary documents, Holowicki noted, prepared her to “break down the language of bills and research articles.”

Benishek’s office gave Holowicki experience in a variety of tasks, starting with answering constituent letters and email — work that required research into legislative issues and the Congressman’s past position on similar matters. This work taught her “the importance of the individual voice,” an insight she will carry back to her students. “Determined constituents can bring issues to the attention of Congress with just a little effort.”

Other insights into the legislative process came from attending committee meetings with Benishek, where she observed how majority party status and seniority governs which members set the agenda. She saw staff stretched to cover the representatives’ responsibilities to constituents. Half of Benishek’s staffers work in the three offices in his northern Michigan district, which takes 14 hours to cross by car.

Benishek’s legislative director asked Holowicki to help the Congressman prepare for visits to schools in his district. A physician who has worked for the Veterans Administration and who plans to return to medical practice after completing a self-imposed term limit, Benishek “likes to learn what students are studying in science. But it’s also important that he bring students a lesson on active citizenship.” So Holowicki drew up lesson plans on the work of Congress that Benishek could use to guide class discussions.

Before leaving Washington, she spoke about her experience at a Madison Foundation meeting. Texas Senator John Cornyn, Chair of Madison Foundation, used a military term to explain the value of her internship. “He called me a ‘force multiplier’ because I will share what I learn with so many students.” These “force multipliers,” Holowicki and over 7,000 other Ashbrook teachers, are vital to attaining Ashbrook’s goal of perpetuating the enduring the principles and practice of free government in the United States.