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At the end of last summer, when her classmates were getting ready to resume their studies at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, 3L Colleen McMahon was a thousand miles away, getting settled in Washington, DC. She had decided to grab an opportunity that was too good to pass up, particularly for someone already planning a career in public service. She was going to spend the fall as an intern—the only intern—for the counsel to the vice president of the United States.
From her desk in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, McMahon conducted legal research on constitutional and international issues. “There was a lot of variety to the work,” she says, “and, along with interns from other departments, I attended weekly presentations from senior advisers, who talked about their roles in the White House and offered career advice.”
“There were also some exciting times that came about as by-products of the internship. Watching the president’s helicopter, Marine One, land on the South Lawn was a thrill,” McMahon notes, “and I really enjoyed the pomp and circumstance around a state visit of President Lee Myung-bak from South Korea.”
“When I met President Obama, I let him know I was a Chicago native and a White Sox fan, and he gave me a fist bump. That was a real high point!”
McMahon has been interested in government and politics since grade school. While majoring in political science at Fairfield University in Connecticut, she spent a summer as an intern in the Washington office of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.). She admires Emanuel for his “work ethic and contagious drive,” and would welcome the opportunity to work for him in his new role as Chicago’s mayor.
McMahon also served two internships with the U.S. Department of State, at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, Ireland, and the Consulate General in Perth, Australia.
Now back at law school, McMahon is preparing for interscholastic competition as a member of the Jessup International Moot Court team.
“I was a member of the mediation team last year,” she says, “and loved the competition. I work well with people, so I really enjoy collaborating and participating in team projects.”
McMahon volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008 and will volunteer again in 2012. Several of her friends cite her as the inspiration for them registering to vote.
“I feel proud to be part of a rejuvenation of interest in public service among America’s youth,” she says. “It was an honor and a privilege to serve President Obama’s administration.”
After law school, McMahon hopes for a career in public policy or law in the nation’s capital—ideally working for President Obama’s administration, or with a senator or representative, or as counsel or advisor to a committee. The long hours and relatively low pay of a public servant aren’t discouraging to her.
“I feel fortunate to be an American,” she says proudly. “I want to help this country keep moving forward. I want to find answers and work toward making America as strong as it can be.”