WASHINGTON – Ellery Butterfield is the type of person who takes action. When the University of Nebraska at Kearney student sees a potentially life-changing opportunity, she's going to pursue it. That's how she ended up in Washington, D.C., working for U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith.
Butterfield, a psychology major with a public law minor, recently participated in the University of Nebraska's D.C. Professional Enrichment Academy. The program launched in 2018 gives summer interns an opportunity to network with prominent NU alumni and learn from interesting guest speakers while preparing for the transition from college to their professional careers.
“It's a good way for Nebraskans to stay connected to other Nebraskans and start climbing the ladder once you're here,” said Butterfield, who spent eight weeks in the nation's capital. “It's been a great experience.”
The academy is open to any NU student interning in Washington, and Butterfield didn't have any trouble deciding who she wanted to work for.
“If I was going to be in D.C., I wanted to see the politics and I wanted to see government at work,” the 22-year-old said. “Adrian Smith's office does a fantastic job integrating interns into the inner-workings of the office.”
Butterfield, a 2016 graduate of St. Mary's Catholic High School in O'Neill, had met the Nebraska congressman a few times before, and her interest in law and a future career as a criminal defense attorney made the political position even more appealing. She is particularly interested in the challenges facing people with mental disabilities and victims of abuse, as well as the lack of services available to address these issues.
“It's important that we recognize these people deserve a voice,” said Butterfield, who has assisted at the Royal Family KIDS Camp for abused or neglected foster children and worked at Integrated Life Choices, which serves people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
“I think there's something to be said about somebody who's willing to stick their neck out for people who can't advocate for themselves,” Butterfield said.
Through her internship, the UNK senior had a face-to-face meeting with Smith when she was able to present a piece of legislation she believes the congressman should co-sponsor. Butterfield chose HR 1738, a resolution introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin aimed at reducing child marriages, sex trafficking and sexual abuse by eliminating visa loopholes that allow minors to be brought to the country as spouses or fiancées of U.S. citizens.
“I marketed it as a bill that would create bipartisan discussion about immigration reform,” said Butterfield, who called the meeting “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“Bridging this gap and this divide between Republicans and Democrats is the No. 1 issue facing our country, and I was able to present a solution to that just by being out here,” she said. “I think more Nebraskans need to realize that, especially young Nebraskans.”
Butterfield's main responsibilities as a summer intern included answering phone calls, assisting constituents with their questions and leading Capitol Hill tours.
“I think I learned more about the history of the Capitol in a few weeks than I did in all of my years in high school,” she said.
The summer interns from Nebraska also teamed up to create a tour pamphlet that highlights the state's connections to Washington and its numerous museums and monuments.
“It gave me a lot of pride in the state,” Butterfield said. “Nebraskans have had a much bigger hand than a lot of people would have expected in creating Washington, D.C.”
In addition to working directly with Smith's office, Butterfield got to meet the other members of Nebraska's congressional delegation, as well as representatives from different states and other influential figures.
“I ran into Nancy Pelosi, like very literally. I accidentally bumped into her and that was a little bit embarrassing. But, in all honesty, I think it was her fault,” she said.
She stayed on the Marymount University campus with roommates from New York, Massachusetts and New Zealand and also visited New York City for the first time.
Butterfield, who has another internship lined up with the law firm of Anderson, Klein, Brewster and Brandt back in Kearney, believes other UNK students should strongly consider participating in the D.C. Professional Enrichment Academy, which offers academic credit and financial assistance.