Firoz Jameel’s mother remembers being mystified when he was in third grade and got wrapped up in a newspaper article about the Midway Airlines bankruptcy. A lifelong interest in public policy and economics – now his major at Duke University – netted Jameel a White House internship this spring.
Jameel attended both Cary Town Council and Board of Education meetings while attending Cary Academy for both middle and high school. He spent two summers interning for Gov. Bev Perdue. After observing Jameel’s initiative, Perdue encouraged him to apply for a White House internship. He was notified he got the position in November and arranged to take the spring semester off from Duke.
Q: Why did you apply for the White House internship? Was it a tough decision to take a semester off?
I thought the internship would be a great opportunity to find out about the federal government. The thing that made my decision easier was that my major requires an internship. (Jameel’s earlier internships with Perdue did not count for course credit because he had not yet completed mandatory coursework.)
Q: Where did you work in the White House?
I was in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Outreach. Our job was to spread the President’s message. We were responsible for disseminating the message to local officials in state and local government.
Q: What can you tell me about your experiences as a White House intern? What about your fellow interns; do you all live close together?
There are long hours involved. When I used to watch “The West Wing,” I saw the senior staffers staying late what I didn’t realize then was that it also means everyone else is staying late, too.
As far as interns, everyone is scattered around Washington, D.C. Because of our long hours, we have had the chance to get to know each other well. The White House staff makes sure to choose students from very different backgrounds and walks of life.
Q: Your mother and father are engineers by training, and your mother seems amazed that you are interested in public policy. Where does that interest come from?
My interest might mystify my parents, but my parents and grandparents have left a legacy of public service. Many people in my family are brilliant mathematicians and scientists; I was better at public speaking. I think public policy is just my way of contributing and giving back.
Q: Why were you so interested in reading about public policy and major news stories in the newspaper at a young age?
Honestly, the front page of the newspaper was the only part with color pictures. My father saw my interest and encouraged me to start reading it.
Q: How did your experience on the debate team at Cary Academy affect your life?
I was a fairly shy kid. Luckily for me, the teachers at Cary Academy really want to see students succeed. The debate team helped me develop my critical thinking skills and allowed me to see things from different viewpoints. I learned how to arrive at a decision that is informed.
Q: What about your internship with Governor Perdue? What did you learn?
I got a lot out of interning at Governor Perdue’s office. I learned how to amplify the Governor’s message. She has a strong belief in leading our state forward by helping children. She has a deep conviction that all children deserve opportunities, and that’s part of the reason she pushed through the lottery; she wanted to make sure all teachers and children end up getting what they need.
While I was interning there, I got to help with the Governor’s social media outreach. I started to understand how to craft and send out messages.
Q: What advice would you give other young people who seek similar internships?
I think interns have to show initiative and take on responsibilities. But I think, too, that the people in the office where the students are interning make a big difference. The people in the Governor’s office gave me a lot of great opportunities.
Q: What are your thoughts on local government versus federal?
It’s easier to see how local politics has an impact on peoples’ lives; you get to see the actual results. But on a federal level, you get a bigger picture; you have to take into account the needs of lots of different areas. Everything comes together.