Zachary Vann (left) with Rep. Steve Womack
Not many college students have the opportunity to attend congressional briefings and committee meetings, conduct research on legislation, and give tours of the U.S. Capitol, but one University of Arkansas – Fort Smith student spent his summer doing just that as part of a prestigious fellowship.
Zachary Vann of Alma worked for six weeks in U.S. Rep. Steve Womack’s office as the 2016 John Paul Hammerschmidt Fellow, which offers a UAFS student the opportunity to travel to the nation’s capital each summer to intern in the congressman’s office to experience the legislative process firsthand.
That process including attending briefings, researching legislation to help inform Congressman Womack’s position on various bills, and helping with constituent relations, including giving tours and interacting with constituents via email and phone calls.
Additionally, Vann was able to attend the meetings of the House Appropriations Committee through the fellowship, as Womack is a member of the committee whose job is to determine how the government spends discretionary federal funds in a given fiscal year.
“A lot of the grit and the interesting stuff happens in the committees,” Vann said. “The majority of the discussion with legislation happens there. I didn’t realize just how much happens behind the scenes.”
Vann loved the experience, especially the high level of responsibility he had in his position.
“You could uniform the internship to whatever you wanted to pursue. And to be around and assist in performing tasks that are of national importance is just kind of surreal,” Vann said. “If I did something wrong, it could have consequences on a very large scale. So I enjoyed not necessarily the pressure, but the responsibility. It drove me to do the best job I could.”
The fellowship was also eye-opening for Vann, who understood the basics of government but didn’t realize the intricacies of lawmaking.
“I thought I had my head wrapped around how it worked, but I didn’t realize just how much work and detail goes into each and every aspect of a bill getting passed,” Vann said. “Being able to see things firsthand was an invaluable experience that gave me a deeper understanding from what I learned in the classroom.”
Womack’s attention towards his constituents also impressed Vann, as the congressman would often take time out of his day to accompany constituents on tours of the Capitol.
“It made a big impact on the constituents, and not every congressman would have the time to do that,” Vann said. “I know his time is valuable, so that just shows how dedicated he is to the people he serves.”
To round out his D.C. experience, Vann did his fair share of sightseeing, touring all of the national monuments and also exploring hiking trails.
“Everything was so close and walkable,” he said. “I enjoyed living in a larger city and being surrounded by history everywhere I went. There was never a shortage of things to do at any time of the day, and I was able to meet many different types of people that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet otherwise.”
The JPH Fellowship was established in 2013 in conjunction with UAFS and is named in honor of former Arkansas Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt (1966-1993), who passed away last April. It is geared towards highly motivated college students with an interest in public service and allows outstanding Third District students to spend a summer working in Congressman Womack’s Washington, D.C. office.
Previous JPH Fellows found the experience just as impactful as Vann did. Andrew Haught, 2015 Fellow and senior finance major at UAFS, called the experience “formative,” while Jordan Hale, 2013 JPH Fellow and UAFS graduate, said he was proud to serve in the position.
“John Paul Hammerschmidt was a lifetime servant of Arkansas and the 3rd District. It was my honor to be selected as the first JPH Fellow to represent UAFS and serve in Congress Womack’s office in Washington, D.C.,” Hale said. “John Paul Hammerschmidt is widely respected, and I am exceedingly proud to be associated with such a leader.”
For more information about the fellowship, contact Dr. Elizabeth Underwood, associate vice chancellor for government and university relations, at 479-788-7008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.