From the Classroom to Capitol Hill
During the summers after her freshman and junior years at UConn, Jaime Cheshire ’99 (CLAS) secured internships working on Connecticut Representative Nancy Johnson’s reelection campaign. She enjoyed the experience so much that when she graduated from UConn in 1999 with a degree in political science, Jaime moved to Washington, D.C., and went to work for Rep. Johnson full-time, eventually rising to become the Republican congresswoman’s legislative director. Jaime said she owes her love of public service to Rep. Johnson, whom she considers a mentor.
“I was inspired by her curiosity and passion for the issues,” Jaime recalls. “For me, it was seeing somebody doing it who was so effective and was such a clear voice for the people that she represented. And the fact that she is a female added to that.” Jaime also said that she liked how the real-world experience of working on Capitol Hill complemented her UConn political science classes. “The internships made it tangible for me, because I was studying all this theory in my coursework and then I was seeing it applied.”
When Rep. Johnson retired in 2006, Jaime quickly found another position on the staff of Rep. Buck McKeon, a Republican from California. Shortly after she arrived, McKeon became the chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, and Jaime shifted her focus from domestic policy to military affairs. It was an area that had long interested her. “I was 24 on 9/11 and a lot of folks around that age were really, really impacted by what happened,” she says. “We realized that we couldn’t stick our head in the sand and ignore the world.”
With 62 members, the House Armed Services Committee is the largest in Congress, and its most important task each year is to draft the National Defense Authorization Act, which funds the military, including troop salaries. Thanks to an unusual sense of collegiality in the committee, Congress has managed to pass the committee’s bill for 51 straight years. “It’s a very — I don’t want to say old school — but a very bipartisan lawmaking place to be,” Jaime says. “Not only do we work collaboratively, but also we see the fruits of our labor, because we care about the troops, and it’s not something we can fail them on.” Although Rep. McKeon is not running for reelection this fall, Jaime hopes to remain as a staffer on the House Armed Services Committee.
Jaime said that one of the most rewarding parts of her job is being able to help UConn undergraduates launch public service careers. She serves on the advisory board of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and each semester she meets with students in the Capitol Hill internship program to answer questions and offer advice. That advice? “Go find a lawmaker whom you admire and do whatever it takes to work for them, over a summer or after graduating. It can be very, very competitive in the first couple of years getting your first spot, but once you get your foot in the door it’s a tremendous experience.”