Student to intern at congressional, senatorial level

Udall foundation selects 12 students nationwide, only six are undergraduates



“That’s not an opportunity many people get to have. It’ll be challenging in the best kind of way,” says Emma R. Johnson, a senior majoring in cultural anthropology.

JAYCE CARRAL, Evergreen reporter

Emma R. Johnson is the first WSU student to become a Udall Native American Congressional intern and has also been selected to become an intern for Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

Johnson, a senior majoring in cultural anthropology, is also a member of the Cowlitz Indian tribe, said she began the Udall application process in October 2018 and submitted it in January 2019.

Johnson said the Udall Foundation awards scholarships according to three different categories: environmental, tribal policy and Native American healthcare. She said those applying to the last two categories must be part of a Native American tribe.

Johnson said the scholarship funded most of her senior year tuition. As a scholarship winner, Johnson was required to attend a four-day conference with other Udall scholars. During the conference, Johnson learned about congressional internships.

After being chosen as one of the finalists, the Udall Foundation and Sen. Cortez Masto’s staff interviewed Johnson, she said.

“[The Udall Foundation] tries to find the person who would be able to teach you the most based upon your interests and your future career,” Johnson said. “They matched me with a senator from Nevada.”

She said Sen. Cortez Masto is on the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, as well as the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which are two of Johnson’s interests.

Johnson said she will be working in Sen. Cortez Masto’s office, and her responsibilities as an intern will include giving tours of the capital and speaking with constituents.

“I’ll be given portfolios on Indian Affairs and Energy and Natural Resources, so I can work with what I’m interested in,” she said. “I will also get the bigger picture of everything that goes on in her office.”

She said the internship with the Udall Foundation includes being able to attend workshops about native nation building, where attendees will learn how the federal government works with tribes.

Johnson said she is looking forward to networking in Washington D.C.

“Networking helped me get the internship. When I come back home and find a career right after college, I will be able to have those connections within D.C.” she said. “That’s not an opportunity many people get to have. It’ll be challenging in the best kind of way.”

Johnson said she worked closely with a WSU adviser. She had the same adviser during both times she applied to the Udall Foundation.

April Seehafer, WSU’s Distinguished Scholarships Program director, said she did not meet Johnson in person until after two years of working together over the phone and video chat. She said this was because Johnson studies in Vancouver and was in New Zealand for a study abroad program.

“[Johnson] does all the heavy lifting. I would edit her drafts and respond back,” Seehafer said. “My office also helps coordinate external readers so we can send it out for additional feedback.”

Seehafer said Udall is a nationally competitive program. For Johnson’s program, 12 students are selected nationwide and only six of those students are undergraduates.

After Johnson’s first application rejection, she worked to improve her eligibility by involving herself further within her tribe, Seehafer said. 

“I want to work in the cultural resources department,” Johnson said. “I don’t find work ever boring. My tribe is progressing a lot. They were so excited that I got [the internships].”

Johnson said her internships will either solidify her future plans or open the door to other opportunities. She said her current internship with the Bureau of Indian Affairs will allow her to transition into a federal position. Johnson said she has also applied for a cultural resources position within her tribe.

“That’s my endgame. I really want more outside experiences before I come and work with my tribe,” she said. “Right now, it’s kind of up in the air. I’m excited for D.C.”

Seehafer said Johnson was not aware the Native American congressional internship existed until about a year ago.

“I think she stands out from her peers in the ways she is involved. Her position right now in the Indian tribe is a position that has her doing all sorts of things,” Seehafer said. “One day she may be spraying noxious weeds, and another day she might be collecting baby fish.”

She said Johnson reflects on everything she does to contribute in her tribe.

“The work that she did on huckleberry research — she was out there identifying plots of land, and she connected how important huckleberries are culturally to her tribe. Other people would just say, ‘It’s hot today,’ ” Seehafer said. “[Johnson] really thinks about ‘Why is this important?’ and what the information is going to be used for.”

Johnson said she is excited to live in D.C. for 10 weeks. It has been a journey for the last four years, she said, and a lot of it is because she stayed in contact with native programs in Pullman.

“I have the title [of WSU’s first Udall Native American congressional intern], but it’s been a cumulative work by everybody — everybody who has written me letters of recommendation, read my essays and given my essays of any sort of feedback,” she said. “I’m extremely proud to be labeled that.”