The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



University students visit West Wing

By NICOLE MICHELS | Friday, September 6, 2013


Notre Dame students studying in the University’s Washington, D.C. program discovered they have friends in high places when they visited the West Wing to speak with Deputy Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama, Rob Nabors.  

While participating in the Washington Program, students must work 20 to 25 hours per week at an internship and take nine credits of classes, according to the program’s website. Students also tour various sites of national importance, including the Supreme Court, the Capitol complex and the West Wing. 

Junior Alex Caton [Editor’s note: Caton is a Viewpoint columnist] said getting to tour the West Wing and meet one of the President’s right-hand men was “surreal.”

“You’ve seen the TV show, you’ve always heard about [the West Wing], but you’ve never imagined you could be in it. Sitting around a room with battle flags, medals, a portrait of FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt], boxes of M&Ms with reprints of Barack Obama’s signature on them … a surreal experience,” Caton said. “It was surreal: being in such close proximity to someone who spends three to four hours a day with the president and having him be so frank, so honest about his own experience … telling us that the way he got there was not by accident or good fortune, but hard work.”

Caton said he was excited to hear of the path that Nabors took to reach his current position.

“It was humbling to see the hard work that he did, but inspiring to see that if I want to contribute my own piece to the story of the American government, that dream is achievable for me if I do the hard work,” Caton said. 

Junior Tim Scanlan said he was excited to meet Nabors because he hoped to learn about the life of a national policy-maker. 

“I was excited when I found out about the meeting because of how integral Nabors has been to the domestic policy of the Obama administration,” Scanlan said. “I was really looking forward to knowing more about how decisions are really made and hearing about some of the current conflicts in greater detail, especially in regards to Syria.”  

When he met Nabors in person, Scanlan said he was impressed with his candid account of his work. Scanlan said learning work at the executive level demanded 18 hours of work, seven days a week underlined the intensity of Nabors’ job. 

“The meeting was great – Rob Nabors was an energetic and earnest speaker,” Scanlan said. “He covered everything from a typical day in the life to the priorities of the Administration going forward. It was an hour and a half of humble honesty about Washington success and the work it takes to get there.”

Junior Nicole Sganga said she was inspired by Nabors’ willingness to speak candidly about his path from Notre Dame to just outside the Oval Office.

 “This big, powerful man in Washington was sitting down and telling us jokes and stories about [University president] Fr. Hesburgh was his freshman seminar professor … it was amazing, how candid he was,” Sganga said. “It was very uplifting and inspiring to see a Notre Dame graduate who didn’t know what he wanted to do when he received his diploma, go so far.”

Junior Emily Voorde said she was impressed by how easily Nabors found common ground between himself and her peers. 

“We talked about Syria, about his day-to-day operations … but we also talked about dorms on campus and Fr. Hesburgh,” Voorde said. “It was neat to see someone with so much power able to sit down and speak with us on a really personal and honest level, it shows that these people aren’t superheroes – they come from the same roots we do.  

“He spoke very candidly about how at our age, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do … to everyone in the room, I know that was reassuring. There’s still time to decide what we want to do and to make a really incredible contribution to the country and the world.”