Alumni Q&A with Lindsey Williams of Dickinson College

TWC alumni Lindsey Williams at an SEIU Workers Rights Rally in Harrisburg, April 2019.

The Washington Center and Dickinson College alumna Lindsey Williams participated in TWC's Academic Internship Program in 2004 and interned with the National Whistleblower Center. 

Currently the State Senator for District 38 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Lindsey Williams came to intern in D.C. seeking clarity on her law school decision. The internship experience clarified her thinking and kicked off a career that would lead to her returning to her internship site before making way for a journey to the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

When were you at The Washington Center, what was your home university and where were you placed as an intern?
I did the Academic Internship Program at The Washington Center during the Spring 2004 semester. I came from my alma mater, Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. While in D.C. I was placed with the National Whistleblower Center.

Why did you choose to intern through TWC? What did it enable you to do while you were in Washington, D.C.?
I wanted to figure out whether or not I wanted to go to law school. Going to D.C. and doing an internship was my way of determining if that was the right path for me. Choosing to go to law school is expensive, it requires three years of your life, so I wanted to do an internship that would allow me to explore whether that was the right option for me. I was placed with the National Whistleblower Center. I did some really great work there that helped me decide that I did, in fact, want to go to law school.

Senator Williams at an Education Committee Hearing, October 2019
Senator Williams at an Education Committee Hearing, October 2019

What drew you to participate in an internship as part of your college experience?
D.C. had always interested me. I was always fascinated by politics and policy. It seemed like a good fit for my majors, political science and sociology. It was just a great fit for me. Also, there were the world-class museums. I spent every weekend going to the free museums to experience as much of D.C. as possible during the limited time I had there.

What was the most impactful experience during your time in Washington, D.C.?
One of my most memorable experiences was my first day. My then-boss went over all of the projects and cases the organization was working on. There were several interns starting that day, a few of us from TWC. He went through the list and asked us if there were any that we were interested in. I raised my hand because there was a case they were handling with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. My dad is an operating engineer and had worked at a nuclear power plant. So I raised my hand as that was something that I would be interested in working on. When the meeting ended, my supervisor went down to the basement and came back with a file box. He dropped it in front of me and said there was a case in front of the First Circuit Court of Appeals and I needed to figure out how to get him admitted to the Bar there and then we had to draft a motion to intervene. He left me to figure the rest out on my own and it was a really great experience. Even though it was my first day as an intern, they gave me complete ownership of the project.

Pennsylvania Military Family Education Program (PA GI Bill) Signing Ceremony, July 1, 2019. Senator Williams was a prime co-sponsor of this bill.
Pennsylvania Military Family Education Program (PA GI Bill) Signing Ceremony, July 1, 2019. Senator Williams was a prime co-sponsor of this bill.

In your current role as a state senator, what needs do you see in the workforce and what opportunities are there for soon-to-be graduates?
I think there are a lot of varying needs in the workforce. One thing that crosses all boundaries, though, whether you’re a lawyer or an architect or construction worker, is the ability to think through both the intended and unintended consequences of your actions. When we’re thinking about workforce development, we’re thinking about people who have skills in a broad array of topics so they are able to think about things in a more holistic way when approaching problems.

My internship through TWC, working in D.C. and eventually running for office back here at home, each stop has taught me some valuable lessons.

Pennsylvania State Senator Lindsey Williams

What advice would you give to students from Pennsylvania or elsewhere to encourage them to follow your example and achieve their career aspirations?
I have three pieces of advice on this. First, maintain good relationships, you never know what is going to happen in life. I kept in touch with my internship supervisor from the National Whistleblower Center. When I graduated from law school and was job searching in D.C., I reached out to him just asking to grab a coffee. He ended up offering me a job and I worked there for about four-and-a-half years.

Pennsylvania State Senator and TWC Alumna Lindsey Williams
Pennsylvania State Senator and TWC Alumna Lindsey Williams

Second, be able to adjust when your plan doesn’t work. I loved my job at the National Whistleblower Center. Unfortunately, I was illegally terminated from there for attempting to organize a staff union. That wasn’t something that I ever thought would happen. I had to reevaluate my plans and figure out a new track for my career.

Third, be ready to take advantage of an opportunity when it arises. When I moved back to Pennsylvania I saw a training program for women who wanted to run for office. It was called Emerge Pennsylvania. I did it with the idea that maybe five or 10 years down the road I may run for office, but then the 2016 election happened and some things changed. I ended up throwing my hat in the ring to run for state senate. It was because I had taken that program and felt prepared that I ran for office a lot sooner than I had anticipated, and won.

My internship through TWC, working in D.C. and eventually running for office back here at home, each stop has taught me some valuable lessons. I’ve learned to roll with the punches and to work hard, ask questions and be ready when opportunities arise. Those have been helpful to me in the long run, and I believe they will help students currently interning as they progress in their careers.

The Washington Center

The Washington Center is the largest and most established student internship program in Washington, D.C. Since our founding, we've helped more than 60,000 young people translate their college majors into career paths. We use our scale and expertise to customize each student’s experience to be truly transformative.