Intern Spotlight: Ball State senior pursues interests in politics, nonprofit work in Washington, DC
Editor's Note: A previous version of the article incorrectly named the nonprofit organization Beneficence Family Scholars and Kotowski's fiance's position. The article has since been updated with the correct information.
One of the first books senior political science major Lydia Kotowski said she remembers reading was a gross anatomy book for toddlers.
Kotowski’s interest in the health professional field continued from there, she said, until her sophomore year at Ball State when she decided to pursue political policy instead.
“I have always been someone who likes to fix things,” Kotowski said. “The medical profession is a helping profession. Law, taken the right way, is a helping profession. That's always been my nature: to fix things and to help.”
When Kotowski opened her email at work in February of this year, she said, she cried because she not only saw she was accepted into a summer internship program through The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), but she also received a scholarship covering the total cost of the trip.
“I was fortunate enough that I got a phenomenal internship with the Washington Council of Lawyers, which is a volunteer bar association that works with pro bono and public interest matters,” Kotowski said. “Essentially, what they do is they help educate the D.C. and national legal community on how lawyers can provide pro bono services … They do a lot of professional development for new lawyers to help them really start on the right foot with both networking connections as well as being a really ethical lawyer.”
Kotowski said because Washington D.C. is a hub for lawyers and legal matters, she was looking for a way to have a legal internship in the district to see a lot of her different interests come together.
“I knew I wanted to spend the summer in D.C. because I wanted to figure out, one, if I wanted to live there in the future and go to law school there, and two, [it’s] the policy center of the country,” Kotowski said. “I believe I want to go into policy, and so I thought it would be good to be out there.”
To receive the scholarship, Kotowski worked closely with Andrea Wolfe, an assistant teaching professor of English.
Wolfe met Kotowski when she taught one of Kotowski’s freshman courses centered around providing students a good foundation to apply for scholarships later in their college careers.
“She just seems really well-organized,” Wolfe said. “She’s collected, and knows what she wants to do and is able to take the steps to bring those goals to fruition. She does it several times very reliably throughout her college career. I think she's a really impressive student.”
For the summer internship program, TFAS provided Kotowski with housing at George Washington’s campus, located in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of the district. In addition to her 30-to-40-hour work week during her internship, Kotowski also took two classes at George Mason University.
At her internship, Kotowski helped conduct research for the council and helped design social media campaigns. Some of the research she did was over immigration law, civil rights and civil liberties issues occurring today, such as gay marriage, non-cis gendered issues and race issues.
“From the legal side, I did some research about things that the council had done in the ’70s and ’80s where they worked with Congress to make it legal for government lawyers, and legal aids and other people in the legal field to provide public interest services because prior to that, they weren't allowed,” Kotowski said. “I was researching some of that so that when they celebrate their 50th anniversary in a couple years, they have all that information ready.”
Prior to her internship, Kotowski had created a nonprofit organization in Muncie called the Beneficence Family Scholars Program. Because of her past experience in nonprofit work, Kotowski said, she helped revise and edit government documents during her internship.
While in the district, Kotowski said, she also had the opportunity to meet with a variety of different people in her profession, which was the most gratifying portion of her trip to her.
“I got to chat with some of the lawyers who actually argued and wrote briefs for Obergefell v. Hodges, which was the case in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage, and so getting to chat with them was really, really amazing,” Kotowski said. “I got to meet Elena Kagan, one of the Supreme Court justices. She was brilliant. Just getting to learn from really incredible people was my favorite part of the internship.”
Kotowski said she plans to go to law school in fall 2020 and move near Louisville, Kentucky, where her fiance co-owns a small business. Although she has many different career options, she said, she hopes to expand the pro-bono practice in the Midwest.
“I have a huge love and respect for nonprofit work because I think that is one of the great things about America is that we have such an active nonprofit sector in our country,” Kotowski said. “I think there are so many ways that can be improved to help the people who those nonprofits serve, have a greater voice and greater ability to navigate our country than what currently exists.”