UNH grad student spends summer interning at White House
Published: Monday, September 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
By the age of 30, most college students would hope to live a dream similar to that of UNH graduate student Brooks Payette. With several awards and national recognitions under his belt, it is safe to say that Payette has and continues to make his experience at UNH a promising one.
Payette enrolled as a non-traditional student at UNH in 2009. Upon finishing his undergraduate studies, he posted a 4.0 GPA within his political science major and graduated in May 2012 while also in the early acceptance program. He is scheduled to graduate with a Master of Arts degree in political science in May 2013.
A first-generation college graduate, Payette is a member of Phi Sigma Alpha Honor Society and received an Award of Excellence at the 2010 Undergraduate Research Conference for his case study on the 2010 Nevada Senate Election. He has also been named a 2012 Distinguished Delegate for the National Model United Nations.
“My interest in politics was sparked in working as a newspaper reporter and covering the 2004 presidential election,” Payette said.
Prior to enrolling at UNH in 2009, Payette garnered a seven-year career as a journalist and high school coach. He served as the sports editor for the Berlin Daily Sun and later as a publication editor and general assignment reporter for Beacon Press in Biddeford, Maine. He is currently serving as a columnist for The New Hampshire.
“The best part of working as a journalist was that you are constantly forced to educate yourself on issues you have to cover,” Payette said. “This helped build a solid foundation of knowledge for the issues those in public office and the general public face each day.”
A 2011 National Truman Scholar Award Recipient, Payette recently returned from the Truman Summer Institute and completed an internship at the White House in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. There, Payette specialized in event protocol and outreach to veterans and military families.
“I had always wanted to work at the White House and was lucky enough to get that opportunity,” he said.
Payette landed the scholarship by applying online and following up with an interview.
“In addition to my previous experiences and commitment to public service, I believe my status as a Truman Scholar played a big role in my selection,” he said. “There were only 120 selected to the program out of thousands that applied.”
With the internship only lasting a few short months, Payette’s duties as a White House intern were far from ordinary.
“Every day was obviously a little different, but an important part was ensuring everything was squared away on both the events and room front,” he said. “Pending the day, I also attended events, trainings or speaker series. I, as well as the other interns, stayed very busy throughout the day. I also scheduled and attended meetings with the military family and veterans team.”
Payette said that the best day he had while interning at the White House was when he met First Lady Michelle Obama.
“During an event with her, I got a fashion shout-out, got to ask her a question about Let’s Move, took a picture with her, and got a hug. It was quite an experience,” he said. “She is my role model in many ways, primarily because of her call to combat childhood obesity in America, which is a serious problem.”
Fighting childhood obesity is also the cause Payette hopes to mold in his own career in public service.
Payette said his favorite part of the job was helping out on the White House tours with the Wounded Warriors.
“Their service to this country is unrivaled. Their positive attitude and smiles as we toured the White House was inspiring and infectious. The people that I worked with here were also a big positive to this experience,” he said.
When asked in a White House interview what it was like working in a place so steeped in history, Payette said he had always been fascinated with presidential history.
“Walking through the many parts of the White House was quite the experience the first time,” he said. “It is truly an honor, but after time you are running around so much you have little time to realize where you are.”
Though Payette was not able to meet President Barack Obama in person, he attended a handful of events with the president, including the New York Giants’ visit to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl victory.
Throughout his political career and his experience at the Truman Summer Institute, Payette said he has had the opportunity to cross paths with many influential people.
“I got to meet Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. We also had an event with former Vermont Governor Howard Dean on the day of the Affordable Care Act Supreme Court decision. I reminisced with him about a sit-down interview I conducted with Governor Dean in 2003 for the Berlin Daily Sun when he was running for president.”
Overall, Payette believes his experience as an intern in Washington, D.C. has increased his interest in a career in public service.
“I think it better defined the type of public service career I want to pursue,” he said. “As a former coach, and in other leadership roles, I have always been a bigger part of a small organization. Obviously (at the White House), it is the opposite and in some ways, it’s a reminder I am more comfortable in leadership roles.”