By Curt Yeomans
When Jonesboro resident Caroline Smith attended a press conference at the nation's Capitol last week, she was surprised by the size of the press conference room in the Senate.
It is a lot smaller than she thought it appeared on television, she said.
Smith, who is serving as an intern in the office of U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), said the room is probably not even twice the size of the 12-foot by 14-foot bedroom she lives in at the University of Georgia's main campus in Athens. But, when 30 reporters are jammed into that small space, it appears, on TV, to have a lot more people in it, and thus, looks bigger, Smith said.
"In reality, we were just packed in there," she said.
Smith, 21, is one of 12 Georgia college students completing a four-week internship in Chambliss' office in Washington, D.C., this week. The public relations major and rising UGA senior has spent her time in Chambliss' Press Office giving tours of the Capitol building to the senator's constituents, clipping news stories, writing and editing press releases, and attending committee hearings and speeches by officials.
Ashley Nelson, Chambliss' press secretary, said the interns were assigned to department offices within the senator's office based on their major, and on their interests.
The interns were spread out across at least eight departments, Smith said, including the Press Office, Military Office, Mailroom, Homeland Security Office, Health Care Office, Energy and Environment Office, Agricultural Office and General Administrative staff.
Nelson, who oversaw Smith and another intern, said her goal was to work with the college students and "basically just introduce them to what we do every day."
During the last three and a half weeks in Chambliss' office, Smith said she learned it takes good verbal communication skills for an elected official, or their spokesperson, to handle questions from the press.
"I learned they [U.S. Senators] read prepared statements at the beginning of the press conference, but when they have to answer questions, they just go off the top of their heads," Smith said. "They all have to obviously be trained in public speaking to handle those situations."
Smith, a graduate of the College Park's Woodward Academy, said she chose to pursue a career in public relations because she wanted to major in a field that allows her to communicate with people on a regular basis. She said she considers herself to be a "people person," and was attracted to the internship by the chance to use her writing and speaking skills.
Smith said she is an executive board member for UGA's chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, and also president of the university's Academic Honesty Council. She said she served internships at non-profit organizations before her Washington assignment.
Smith said she is still exploring her options in the public relations field. Having already interned for non-profit organizations and a public official, she said her next stop will be an internship at a small television station in north Atlanta called "Get Connected." She said she will begin work in July.
"I saw [public relations] as such an open field, and it could give me many different options after school," Smith said.
Nelson said she believes Smith will do well in the public relations profession, based on what she has seen the Jonesboro resident do in Chambliss' Press Office over the past few weeks.
"I think she'll go far," Nelson said. "She's intelligent, she works hard, and she has a good grasp of what we do here."