How I Got an Internship with the Department of Homeland Security

How I Got an Internship with the Department of Homeland Security through The Washington Center

As a computer science major, I felt like I didn’t belong in D.C. as well as someone majoring in political science or international affairs would. In the beginning, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to get an internship related to my major or career aspirations.

During my junior year in high school, I visited The George Washington University and fell in love with Washington, D.C. I wanted to live here more than anything in the world, but unfortunately, things didn’t work out. Fast forward to college. When it came time to decide what career path I wanted, I realized that I wanted to do data or intelligence analysis for a federal agency. As specific as it may sound, this wasn’t the original plan — or where I expected to end up. Originally I went into college as an Industrial Engineering major, then switched to Computer Science. After deciding on my major, I explored three different minors including Education, until I finally came across what I loved and enjoyed. I attended many advising meetings and career fairs to learn about my possible career opportunities. Long story short, deciding what to study and what career to pursue was anything but a clear path. And, even though I had no clue how I’d get a job at any of my dream agencies, I was determined to achieve this goal that I set for myself.

I was hesitant about the possibility of securing an internship that’s related to my computer science major — it seemed that D.C. was more geared towards political science and international affairs majors. Thankfully, I soon realized that D.C. organizations need STEM majors.

Nicole Garcia

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing: as I quickly found out, the internship application process is very cut-throat. I applied to about 15 summer jobs and internships in my field and only heard back from two. Yes, two. It got to the point where I felt extremely discouraged and mentally exhausted, but thankfully, I also applied to The Washington Center (TWC), which was a real game changer. 

Next thing I knew, I was accepted into the program and started working with my TWC advisor to figure out which internships are the best fit for my unique strengths and career goals. To be honest, I was hesitant about the possibility of securing an internship that’s related to my computer science major — it seemed that D.C. was more geared towards political science and international affairs majors. Thankfully, I soon realized that D.C. organizations need STEM majors; we bring something uniquely different to the table. 

Washington, D.C. organizations like the Department of Homeland Security need STEM majors.
Washington, D.C. organizations like the Department of Homeland Security need STEM majors.

My phone rang and it was the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offering me an internship for the summer. I accepted and got started with my background check process. It’s a long and extremely detailed process, filled with drug tests, lots of paperwork and fingerprinting, but once you’re done and cleared you officially become a federal employee. (Fun fact, if you work for DHS you also get the benefit of getting free TSA PreCheck!) 

I’ve been able to attend a couple events thus far. I attended a Multi-Faith Targeted Violence Roundtable at the FBI Headquarters, which was an amazing opportunity to hear different perspectives from religious leaders, law enforcement officers, and federal agents on how to better prepare and prevent faith-based targeted violence. Next month I get the opportunity to travel to Texas with my department, which is pretty unique and special considering interns usually don’t get the opportunity to travel with senior staff. Most recently I have been helping with the Blue Campaign, a national public awareness campaign designed to educate people to recognize indicators of human trafficking, and how to respond to possible cases. The Blue Campaign provides free educational materials — right now, there’s a backlog from all the demand, so I’m helping them get back on track and ensuring everything’s properly processed. When I’m not doing all this cool stuff, I get hands-on experience with member vetting and policy research.

So, if you’re still trying to figure your major out or have doubts if you are the right for a job, shake that feeling off and go for it; you might even end up working for your dream agency, like me.

Nicole Garcia, Washington Center Student Blogger, Summer 2019

Nicole is a student at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida where she is currently studying Computer Science and completing two certifications in United States Intelligence Studies and Statistical Analysis Systems. Nicole is a Summer 2019 intern with the Homeland Security Advisory Council at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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