Bethany Nanamaker gets taste of life at Supreme Court

Few things are worth delaying one’s college graduation for, but an internship at the Supreme Court of the United States has to be one of them. Bethany Nanamaker, a senior from Findlay majoring in political science and international studies, was selected as a judicial intern at the Supreme Court, where she has served since early January. She will remain in Washington, D.C., through April.

Bethany Nanamaker
Bethany Nanamaker

The Judicial Internship Program provides advanced undergraduates and graduating seniors who have interests in law, management and the social sciences a unique opportunity by working in the Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Chief Justice. The office assists the chief justice in his overall management of the court.

The administrative assistant serves as a liaison for the chief justice, not only within the federal judiciary, but also with the executive and legislative branches. The office further assists the chief justice in his ceremonial duties and provides background materials and research for his public addresses and publications.

Judicial interns work under the direction of the Supreme Court Fellow and perform important office tasks, which include summarizing news articles and preparing memoranda and correspondence.

Interns also conduct background research for speeches and briefings provided to visiting foreign dignitaries. They also may participate in diverse research and organizational projects conducted by the Supreme Court Fellow and the administrative assistant.

Taking the leap
Though Nanamaker did not expect to win the internship, it came as no surprise to the faculty members who have worked with and taught her, including Dr. M. Neil Browne, Distinguished Teaching Professor of economics and director of the IMPACT Learning Community. “Bethany is talented, hard-working and creative. She is unusually able to see issues from multiple perspectives,” Browne said. “She is a wonderful representative of BG. I’m very proud of her, and she should be very proud of herself.”

Dr. Paul Moore, director of the University Honors Program, echoed Browne’s sentiments. “She’s a great student—absolutely brilliant,” he said. “She’s probably one of the best students I’ve ever worked with.”

Nanamaker has collaborated with Moore as a peer facilitator in the critical-thinking class required for all Honors students as part of the BGeXperience program. “We’ve worked together for the past three years and have developed the course so much that I view her as a co-teacher,” Moore said.

In fact, it was Browne who recommended her for the peer facilitator role with Moore because of her strong critical-thinking skills. She also wrote the critical-thinking curriculum for Honors students in the GeoJourney field experience class led by Dr. Joe Elkins, geology.

Her unique combination of personality and skills helped her candidacy. “Bethany reads a lot and has a wide range of interests,” said Dr. Nancy Kubasek, legal studies, who first told Nanamaker about the internship and helped her prepare to apply. “Because of the international relations with the court, they want somebody who’s confident in meeting people who are ambassadors and can talk with them about what’s going on in the world.”

Nanamaker, who took Kubasek’s legal studies course as well as a Constitutional Law political science course, has been conducting legal research for Kubasek for some time, which has also helped prepare her for the demanding, extremely precise work.

When Kubasek received a message from a colleague who is a judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court, inquiring whether she had anyone to suggest for the internship, she thought of Nanamaker. There was only one month before applications were due, and they had to include an essay about the Constitution, a writing sample and three recommendations.

Of the applicants from across the country, only eight are interviewed and two are chosen for the internships. In addition to the worry that a student from a state school would not be considered among all the Ivy League applicants, Nanamaker had just learned her mother had breast cancer.

“I didn’t know if I should even apply, but my mother encouraged me to go for it,” she said. “She’s always been a big emotional support for me.”

After making it through the first round of competition, the next hurdle was the half-hour phone interview. "They want to make sure that the interns are students who already have an ongoing awareness of what kinds of issues the Supreme Court is grappling with,” Kubasek said. "They also are looking for someone whose demeanor conveys competence and enthusiasm, and who can remain calm in a stressful situation."

Nanamaker had done quite a bit of public speaking in high school, she said, and had been a member of the University’s Mock Trial team, which provides strong training in speaking skills. She also got tips from an alumnus with experience in phone interviewing.

“I found out the week of Thanksgiving that I had gotten the internship,” she said, and, again with encouragement from her mother to accept, had only the month of December to arrange housing, withdraw from her spring classes and have her University Professors Scholarship deferred.

Though the timing meant delaying graduation, she decided to seize the opportunity. “Most people apply in the summer because they don’t want a break from school, but the court is in session from October to April, so this is the exciting time to be here,” she said.

Commitment to leadership
While her work at the court is demanding, in some ways her life in Washington is easier, she said. There, she can come home from work and be done, whereas at Bowling Green she has been involved in numerous activities, including Mock Trial, her BGeXperience Honors commitment, the legal research for Kubasek and heavy participation in IMPACT—on top of her regular course load.

Last summer she went to the School of International Training in Durban, South Africa, to study comparative educational systems, and wants to study abroad again in a different part of the world.

While she thoroughly enjoys her internship, “After four years in IMPACT, I really miss my community. I still participate in the online discussion board,” Nanamaker said. “I feel myself being like the seniors I used to look up to,” she added, “taking the role of a leader in the group.

“It was seeing those seniors getting into great grad schools—law schools, med schools, one getting an M.A. in psychology—that convinced me that I should go on to a higher degree,” she remembered.

She plans to earn both a law degree and a Ph.D. and to teach law or another area of the social sciences. “I don’t want to practice law,” she said. “I prefer the cooperative environment of the classroom to the competitive environment of the courtroom, but I want to teach in some area of law or social justice. I’m interested in how the law is used to effect social change.”

Being in IMPACT, which stands for Integrating Moral Principles and Critical Thinking, was “a really good fit for me and very important developmentally,” she said. The community comprises students from various majors and all class years. “It teaches you to ask questions,” she said.

But her biggest influence was Browne. Her first two semesters, “I took his critical-thinking class and then his Great Ideas class, and then I joined IMPACT. He was the first person to really challenge me and to expect a lot from me. I’m a completely different person today than I was in high school,” she said.

Coming from an environment where there was not a strong expectation of her to go to college, the effect BGSU had on her was incalculable, she said. “I want to teach at a university where I can have the same impact on students as Bowling Green has had on me. I want to show them that there’s a really big world out there.”

“I see a brilliant career no matter where she goes,” said Moore. “She’s impassioned about life and what she’s doing, but she’s very down to earth.”

February 26, 2007