Western Carolina University


Image: Tenzin Umstead
Tenzin Umstead

Western Carolina University student Tenzin Umstead of Morganton won't have to rely on the NBC television show “E-Ring” to get a glimpse of the inner workings of the Pentagon. That's because she'll be spending 10 weeks this summer serving an internship at U.S. Department of Defense headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Umstead will join 89 other college students chosen to participate in the Norm Mineta Internship Immersion Program. A total of 400 students around the country applied for the summer internships, and Umstead learned she had been chosen for the program earlier this month.

Umstead, a 2001 graduate of Freedom High School, said she was shocked by the telephone call telling her she had been picked, since the deadline for notification had supposedly passed. “I called everyone I know. I couldn't stop jumping up and down,” said Umstead, a senior at WCU majoring in international business, with a minor in Spanish.

Named in honor of current U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, the program was established by Congress to provide internship opportunities for undergraduate students within the Department of Defense and other defense-related agencies. The program is aimed at providing students interested in national defense a chance to work and gain experience that will qualify them for a career in the field.

The program is administered by the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, an independent educational organization that helps prepare university students for civic leadership through experiential education.

Pending an upcoming security clearance, Umstead will work as a management analyst at the Pentagon for 36 hours each week. The program also features academic programming, including a course one night each week; the Verizon Congressional Speaker Series; the Presidential Lecture Series; the Embassy Visit Program; group discussions; tours; and other activities. Students are responsible for graded portfolio assignments and will be evaluated by the Washington Center's staff.

The Norm Mineta Program pays each accepted student's application and program fees, housing costs, round-trip travel expenses to Washington , D.C., and also provides a $250-per-week stipend.

After earning an associate degree in business administration from Western Piedmont Community College, Umstead transferred to WCU. She posted a perfect 4.0 grade-point average last fall semester and is currently taking eight classes during the spring semester, including five Spanish classes. As part of one Spanish class, Umstead tutors a Spanish-speaking student in science at Jackson County's Cullowhee Valley Elementary School.

Umstead said she believes her fall semester grades were an important factor in being chosen for the internship, and that her academic performance stemmed directly from the high quality of teaching she enjoyed that semester. She said she is grateful to Mardy Ashe, WCU's director of Career Services, who found out about the Mineta internships and alerted university faculty, and to Grace Allen, a business faculty member who told her about the opportunity. Ashe met with Umstead throughout the fall semester to help her prepare her application and other materials for submission.

Umstead's travels won't be over after she completes her summer internship. For the upcoming fall semester, and spring 2007, she'll be enrolled at the International Business School of Avans Hogeschool, one of the leading business schools in The Netherlands, through an exchange agreement involving WCU and the European school. The program will allow her to earn undergraduate degrees at both WCU and Avans Hogeschool.

Umstead said she plans to start her career after college graduation. She hopes to be involved in either finance or government, and if her experience at the Pentagon this summer turns into a job opportunity, that would be an outstanding development.

“It would be awesome to start a career at the Pentagon, but I'm just honored to be working there this summer,” Umstead said.

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Last modified: Monday, April 3, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Western Carolina University