Public Affairs Internship Leads to Communications Career in D.C.

March 5, 2020 The Washington Center

Alumni Q&A with the University of Dayton's Kelly Miller

Kelly Miller is a Director at Banner Public Affairs and author of the 2018 book "Get Attention: Brand Building for Startups." 

University of Dayton’s Kelly Miller came to The Washington Center (TWC) the summer before her senior year to get some firsthand experience prior to her planned career in academia. Following an internship with the Public Affairs Council, she departed D.C. with new goals and on a career journey that would bring her right back to the nation’s capital after graduation. 

Kelly currently is Director at Banner Public Affairs, a full-service government relations and public relations agency, handling clients that include large tech and aerospace companies. She spearheaded the firm’s startup practice, co-leads Tech, Rebalanced (a conference for underrepresented genders in technology), and mentors early-stage entrepreneurs and specifically targeted bootstrapped ventures with her 2018 book Get Attention: Brand Building for Startups.  

What prompted you to seek an internship with The Washington Center as part of your college career? 
It was interesting, I thought I was going to stay in academia for a while. I was in an accelerated master’s program and my plan was to get a master’s, and then probably apply for a Ph.D. from there. The University of Dayton had a relationship set up with TWC and I was encouraged to pursue the opportunity by an academic counselor. I think I sought it out to see what an internship could tell me about my professional options. D.C. seemed an obvious choice to get on the ground experience.

Kelly interned at the Public Affairs Council.
Kelly interned at the Public Affairs Council.

How did the Academic Internship Program help to shape your professional development or subsequent career steps? 
I don’t think I had a solid definition of what “public affairs” meant before coming. My internship was an exciting opportunity to experience political communications in a professional environment on a daily basis. It really helped me decide one, to plant my roots in D.C. and two, to change course from my planned, more academic route. TWC was pretty vital in helping me realize what I wanted to do next.

Are there any skills or competencies you credit the internship with helping you develop?
Absolutely. The internship really gave me a lay of the professional landscape. I became a better writer. I really learned how to be a partner for colleagues, how to add value to a team and an organization. 

D.C. may not necessarily be the first place to come to mind for public relations or communications opportunities, but it is a really wonderful place to spread your wings. You get to play more interesting roles here than you would in a lot of other cities in the U.S.

Kelly Miller
Kelly Miller in Washington, D.C.

What was the most impactful experience from your time interning in Washington, D.C.?
I think what was tangential to the whole internship experience was being able to talk candidly about careers with so many young professionals. It’s a great opportunity as a student to have access to a lot of folks who really want to help you shape your path. When I think back on that summer I think back to a lot of really important conversations that helped me not only make connections, but helped me realize what I wanted to do. The internship itself was truly impactful, but at the same time, the discussions I was having were just as important. It set the groundwork for building a solid network in D.C.

Why is Washington, D.C. a good destination for students, and communications students in particular, seeking an internship?
I, for one, did not first think of D.C. as a city for communicators before I realized how many opportunities there are here. It is a great hub for communications students who want to work in a more intellectual and often socially impactful space. It’s not just large corporate brands here, there are also a lot of organizations doing really interesting things. They all need good communicators, good writers, good public affairs folks. D.C. may not necessarily be the first place to come to mind for public relations or communications opportunities, but it is a really wonderful place to spread your wings. You get to play more interesting roles here than you would in a lot of other cities in the U.S. 

How did your TWC experience play a role in your career decision making? 
It was really helpful for me. Being immersed in the professional world at the Public Affairs Council is what told me that this was the better path for me than academia. I don’t think I would have learned such an important lesson without pursuing this internship. A few weeks into my internship I realized this is where I want to be when I graduate.

How would you describe the TWC experience — internship, professional development, living in D.C. — to a University of Dayton student considering an internship?
Not only is TWC proactively offering a lot of professional development and networking opportunities, there’s even more under the hood depending on how curious you are. If circumstances allow for taking advantage of an opportunity like this, I would absolutely go for it and actively make the most of it - every single day. It was an obvious choice for me with the funding* that was in place. If it’s within your reach, I would absolutely go for it and dive in head first. 


Editor's note: Undergraduate students attending a four-year public or private college or university in the state of Ohio are eligible for a TWC scholarship. Learn more.

About the Author

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.

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