Spending the summer in the nation's capital reinforced two things for Emma Hildebrand.
She's still fascinated by politics, and she still intends to run for office someday -- at the state level.
But Hildebrand, a 2017 Unity High School graduate and a political science major at Monmouth College, wouldn't mind heading back to Washington, D.C., where she spent the summer as a White House intern.
"The thought right now is maybe trying to go back to the Trump administration while a Republican is in office. Everything in D.C. is kind of based on who's in the White House," she said. "If the president were to not get re-elected, my plan is to go to law school. That's been the plan the whole time. The White House is kind of a new addition to that plan."
The 20-year-old worked in the Office of Political Affairs, which develops, supports and advances partnerships in support of the president and his policy agenda. Interns help with political analysis, opinion research and direct outreach to key constituencies.
"My specific supervisor worked on public opinion and polling research, a lot of looking at people and what they think about certain issues," she said. "Every day we'd look at all the new polls posted and type up briefs for the president."
A speaker series through the White House Internship Program gave Hildebrand a chance to hear from Trump administration members, including Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar about leadership skills, working in the political world and public service.
"The vice president came and spoke to us as well. He's one of the friendliest politicians I've ever met, a most genuine guy," Hildebrand said.
The interns also had a chance to meet President Trump, who spoke to the group during its last week in D.C.
"He told us he was proud of our work, that we were all contributing to the country. It was very cool to see him up close and personal," Hildebrand said.
Just as cool, Hildebrand said, was seeing a more human side of the administration's faces.
"I honestly thought, if you watch the news every single day, that Washington D.C. is going down in flames, super hot and contentious. It was honestly the friendliest environment I've ever been in," she said. "All the people made an effort to make sure we were learning as much as we could."
Hildebrand applied for the internship in January, but didn't think she had a chance in the competition. Determined to be in D.C. over the summer, she lined up an internship in Congressman Darin LaHood's office, then found out she was accepted to the White House program. After a whirlwind of background checks and finding housing at American University, she was in D.C. by late May and worked through the summer.
The 106 interns came from varied backgrounds with exercise science, neuroscience and engineering majors in the group along with political science students ranging in age from late teens to mid-30s.
"I'm very excited to see where all 106 go," Hildebrand said.
Fascinated with politics since the 2008 election, Hildebrand works for Sen. Jil Tracy, helped out with campaigns of Rep. Randy Frese, Rep. Norine Hammond and former Gov. Bruce Rauner and interned in summer 2018 in Rauner's office.
"The ultimate goal is to run for probably state office," Hildebrand said. "I see myself as someone who could come in and make a difference in Illinois and help as much as I possibly can. I do see myself hopefully representing Adams County, the place where I'm from, in our state government. That's the dream."
And Hildebrand enjoys working at the state level more than at the federal level.
"When I work for Sen. Jil Tray in Quincy or in Macomb, I have a lot of facetime with constituents," Hildebrand said. "I interact with the people she serves and help them with the issues they face, give them faith in their government. Working in federal government is kind of like the American people are this very vague idea, very distant from everything we did. I didn't enjoy that aspect as much."