Before Alix Lowe-Server ’14 went to work on Capitol Hill, she shared the widely held view that Congress has become dysfunctional and rarely gets anything done. But after spending the past year working for two U.S. senators, Lowe-Server has changed her mind.
“Like many people, I was cynical about the government --- I had the mindset that Congress doesn’t do anything,” she says. “But now that I’m here on the inside, I see that that’s not really the case. I love being on the Hill every day and can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
A science, technology, and society major from Philadelphia, Lowe-Server graduated from Vassar in May 2014. She spent the summer as an intern for Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, and was hired by New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand last September.
Lowe-Server’s initial tasks included answering mail, arranging meetings and tours with constituents, and coordinating Gillibrand’s attendance at events. But two months later, she was promoted to the post of legislative correspondent, a job that requires her to research, write and track bills Gillibrand is sponsoring or co-sponsoring. Her new responsibilities include answering constituents’ inquiries on these bills and monitoring the status of legislation as it moves through the committees on which Gillibrand serves: Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; the Special Committee on Aging, Environment and Public Works; and Armed Services.
“There’s no such thing as a typical day, but I usually begin by watching news programs, then staying up to date with responding to constituent mail on policy issues in my portfolio – agriculture and nutrition, immigration, women’s issues and homeland security,” Lowe-Server says. She spends the rest of the day getting updates on legislation and preparing memos on upcoming hearings or events for the senator and her senior staff.
One of Lowe-Server’s major tasks this summer will be preparing for the adoption of a bill that will reauthorize and fund various nutrition programs through the Department of Agriculture. “The department funds child nutrition and school lunch programs,” she says. “The bill gets re-authorized every five years, and it expires this fall, so we’re holding our first hearings on the bill and getting the senator up to speed, answering any questions she has on what should be included or changed in the new legislation.”
Lowe-Server says it’s been especially interesting to observe how Gillibrand addresses issues that affect women. “The 20 women senators will often come together in a bipartisan fashion to work on a specific set of issues, and it’s really been inspiring to watch,” she says.
Lowe-Server says Gillibrand is widely respected by senators from both parties because of her straightforward, non-partisan approach to her job. “The senator stands up for her beliefs and won’t sacrifice them, but she often crosses party lines,” she says.
Her boss’s belief in bi-partisan cooperation spawned an unexpected “mixer” Gillibrand arranged for her staff just before the Senate adjourned for the holidays last December. “She had been talking to (Republican Sen. and presidential candidate) Ted Cruz about something, and they decided their two staffs ought to get together informally,” Lowe-Server says. “She told us she thought it would be good for us to get to know our counterparts in other senators’ offices, that it would help make things go more smoothly when we were working on something together.”
Lowe-Server says the skills she acquired at Vassar have helped her thrive in her high-powered environment. A ballet dancer since she was a child, she was a member of the Vassar dance troupe, Fly People, serving as financial director of the group in her senior year. “Learning how to juggle my time between those activities s and my academic work has translated well to my work on the Hill,” she says. “One of the best skill sets a Vassar grad has is prioritizing, knowing what has to be done first, and how to get things done fast.”
Lowe-Server says she has no plans to leave the Capitol any time soon. “I feel lucky to be here as the presidential election begins,” she says. “It’s stimulating to see how public policy takes shape. I never expected to be a 23-year-old walking through the halls of Congress every day, discussing issues that affect people’s lives.”
Photo by Sam Rosen-Amy