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Student Gets Up-Close View of U.S. Drug Policy Efforts

Lauren McFayden '17
Lauren McFayden with U.S. drug “czar,” office director Michael Botticelli. Botticelli has reoriented the focus of the “war on drugs” from illicit drug trafficking to domestic consumption.

Lauren McFayden '17 had a lot going for her when she applied for a summer internship in the White House Office of Drug Control Policy.

Her primary asset was Davidson's Center for Career Development. "They were invaluable throughout the whole job search process," she said. "I used them every step of the way."

Center staff reviewed her resume and cover letters, and conducted mock interviews. "They helped me feel prepared going into interviews and filing applications," she said.

It was the office's WildcatLink portal which eventually led McFayden, an English major, to her internship. That database contains job and internship offers of all kinds, sent to Davidson for students to consider. Many come from Davidson alumni and parents. In fact, during the last academic year WildcatLink contained 314 alumni and parent employment leads, out of a total of 1,900 from all sources.

McFayden responded to a WildcatLink posting from Cameron Hardesty '07, who was working in the White House Office of Drug Policy. Hardesty and McFayden conducted a phone interview that resulted in a job offer for 10 week's internship in the office's public affairs division.

Taking the Lead

Though she'd come to the internship with no knowledge of drug policy, McFayden developed a genuine interest in the ever-evolving field over the course of her experience.

She noted that the office director, Michael Botticelli, declared an end to the "war on drugs" several years ago, and said government policy has shifted from an emphasis on law enforcement to one of treatment of substance use disorders as a disease. "Just putting people in jail has proven to be ineffective. There are treatments available, and individuals can recover," McFayden said.

She cited President Obama's recent visit to a federal penitentiary and call for reduction or elimination of prison sentences for minor drug offenders.

McFayden's responsibilities increased as the summer progressed. Her favorite assignment was taking the lead in reporting on a heroin task force meeting.

"The whole thing depended on me," she said. "I attended the meeting, took notes, took pictures, and assembled a post-meeting press readout-a summary of the meeting, takeaway points and next steps."

In addition to writing blog posts for Bottocelli and her direct supervisor, and drafting posts for the office's social media, she also prepared her supervisors for interviews with national media outlets, including NPR, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

There were about 20 interns in the office, but McFayden was the only one assigned to public affairs. She said she thoroughly enjoyed working in government public affairs and public relations, and hopes this summer's experience will translate into another internship next summer, and an eventual career in the field.

"I loved seeing how policy is shaped, and how government works," she said.

The Charlotte native also appreciated the opportunity as her first "real world" employment experience. "Learning how to live on my own was equally valuable to the employment experience," she said.

As a forward on Davidson's field hockey team, McFayden completed a daily exercise regimen to remain in top form. Her days were full, between the internship, commuting time, meals, workouts and sleep.

When McFayden returned to Davidson to begin classes, she did so with a feeling of optimism.

"Government gets a bad rap, but there's great progress in drug policy," she said. "The people I encountered worked around the clock to understand the issues and shape policy," she said.