Marilyn Harbert ’20: RepresentWomen

Name: Marilyn Harbert
Class Year: 2020
Major: Political Science
Hometown: Atlanta

Internship Organization: RepresentWomen
Job Title: Research Intern
Location: Takoma Park, Md.


What’s happening at your internship?

This summer I am an intern at RepresentWomen, a nonprofit which does research and advocacy to increase women’s representation in politics. My focus is research on donations to federal political candidates, from PACs and individual donors, broken down by gender. It may sound dry, but it is exactly what I want to be doing this summer, as I get a chance to improve my skills in data analysis tools, and dive deep into systemic barriers that women candidates face.

Why did you apply for this internship?

2018 was fantastic for female candidates, but Congressional representation only rose from 20.6% to 23.7%. That level of progress is not enough. Only with systemic reforms can we ensure this progress is substantial and sustainable. That is why I chose to work for RepresentWomen, because I wanted to do research that helps push forward systemic reforms to make political gender parity a reality.

Can you talk about the skills you are learning and why they are important to you?

Campaign finance research mixes my two passions perfectly, politics and programming. As a political science major, my classes have prepared me to read the papers, do the writing and the research. But for me, it’s even more fun to stretch the programming skills that I developed through my computer science minor.

For this internship I have been learning Python and R, and developing critical new skills in data science. While my programming background has substantially reduced the learning curve on these languages, some days I still find myself wanting to bang my head against the table. So wish me luck, because I need it!

Although I may get frustrated at times, I am also reminded why I love to program. When everything runs smoothly and my graph finally loads, there’s nothing like the feeling of empowerment I get from seeing the results of my work outputted in my terminal.

What is something you have learned from your internship that you didn’t expect?

I did not expect to be in the halls of Congress, lobbying for bills on voting rights and free menstrual products for students.

My boss registered all of the interns for a conference run by IGNITE, an organization that trains and empowers young women to run for office. We were surrounded by dozens of inspiring young women and heard from Congresswomen including several boundary breakers: Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Deb Haaland, and Sharice Davids. Sessions on field engagement, media training, and fundraising made me start to think seriously about what a political campaign that I may run might look like. When I was told to look into a video camera, and declare my ambition to run for office, I started to actually believe it might happen.

The last day of the conference, we spent nervous hours rehearsing exactly how we’d pitch the chosen bills to our representatives. Before I knew it, I found myself sitting in U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s office, speaking passionately about voting rights to his chief of staff.

In the accompanying pictures, you can see me in front of the senate office building, with my fellow interns in front of the capitol, and with U.S. Rep. Pressley, excited to support women fighting for change in our country.