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St. Norbert College Magazine
Fall 2007 | A Sense of Identity

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Washington on Wheels

Internships with the Washington Wizards and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) in D.C. gave Jessica Manier ’08 and Stephanie Birmingham ’09 a chance to lobby at the seat of federal government for their own advocacy group, Friends for Wheels.
The first two wheelchair-using students from St. Norbert to attend the Washington Semester program found themselves readily absorbed into the faster pace of a larger, less close-knit community.

“Our nation’s capital is very wheelchair-friendly,” Manier says. “I could go anywhere at anytime and not have to worry about having to depend on someone to get me where I needed to go. I would just hop on the metro or a bus and within minutes I would arrive at my destination,” she explained.

“I think you’d be crazy to have a car in Washington, D.C., because no one knows how to drive!” says Birmingham.

For political science major Birmingham, participating in the program was a compromise between her and her parents. She originally wanted to study abroad, but agreed with her family that she would first try to navigate the nation’s capital. In fact,  she found it one of the most accessible cities she had ever traversed.
Interning at the LCCR, Birmingham, who is also pursuing a peace and justice minor, was able to develop her understanding of the breadth of issues that the civil rights movement confronts.
Manier’s program gave the communications major a chance to meet prominent journalists like Helen Thomas and Bob Shieffer. She accepted an internship with the Washington Wizards, the NBA basketball team of Washington, D.C.
“It was like a dream come true!” she said. “I met so many amazing people working there, it was unbelievable!”
Through her public relations class and an article for the American University newspaper in which she and Birmingham were featured, Manier also got a chance to do some lobbying for Friends for Wheels, an organization that the women founded to raise awareness about people with disabilities in the St. Norbert College community.
Both women agreed that students with any sort of disability should feel encouraged to get involved with off-campus opportunities.
“It will give them a chance to spread their wings and prove to themselves and others that just because they have a disability does not mean they cannot broaden their horizons,” said Manier.
“[The Washington Semester] opened my eyes and showed me things I never would have imagined.”
The Washington Semester program is sponsored by the American University in Washington, D.C., and provides students with unique internship opportunities and learning experiences. This year, Sarah Goodman ’09, Jim Rhode ’10 and Katie Trzaska ’09 joined Manier and Birmingham in the experience.

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