Leveling the playing field on Capitol Hill

A former low-income student and unpaid Congressional intern, Audrey Henson is giving back with College to Congress

Startup founders have infamously unpredictable daily schedules as they work to establish and grow their businesses. What does such an entrepreneur’s weekly, daily, or even hourly routine look like when sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day? In the Startup Diaries, founders walk us through a week in their lives and show what it really takes to get a fledgling business off the ground.

Audrey Henson applied online for her first internship on Capitol Hill. “I didn’t know that’s not how anyone got jobs in Washington,” she says. “It’s typically done through word-of-mouth—there’s an opening in the office, the chief of staff asks another chief of staff, ‘Hey, do you know anyone?’” Despite not having that connection, she landed the position—only to face a different obstacle. The job was unpaid, as was typical with most congressional internships, and she’d have to take out a loan and work nights as a bartender to afford it.

“I grew up in a small Texas town with a single mom and two younger brothers, and we were a low-income family,” she says. She took the internship, did what she had to do to pay her way, and went on to build a career in D.C. that included work on three successful election campaigns. But she never forgot the struggle, and one Friday night in 2016, when she was feeling particularly grateful, Henson “couldn’t help but think, ‘How did I get here?’”

That was her first step toward developing a plan for what would become College to Congress, a 501c3 nonprofit that provides funding and educational resources for low-income college students to intern on Capitol Hill. Since launching its first class in June 2017, the bipartisan organization has raised $1.2 million and funded 38 students, paying for all expenses—including travel to D.C., housing, and stipends for food, spending, and professional wardrobe.

“They come in, and they’re already brilliant students,” says Henson, a member at WeWork The Apollo in Washington, D.C. “But then they meet senators and get coffee with congressmen and go to the White House, or they’re at dinner realize they’ve been talking to a Washington Post reporter for an hour—and their eyes are just so open.”

Audrey Henson is the founder of College to Congress, a 501c3 nonprofit that provides funding and educational resources for low-income college students to intern on Capitol Hill.

Henson, whose goal is to continually increase her program’s reach and eventually expand it beyond the summer semester, shares a breakdown of a recent workweek—with appearances by her 8-year-old beagle, Cooper.


6:30 a.m. Wake up and read in bed, including the homepage of the Wall Street Journal, Politico Playbook, and Axios Daily Newsletter.

7:30 a.m. Let out my dog, Cooper.

7:45-8:45 a.m. Pop in the shower, then do hair and makeup while listening to the New York Times’s “The Daily” podcast.

8:45- 9:15 a.m. Take Cooper on a walk around Capitol Hill. Scroll through emails.

9:15 a.m. Walk to work and post one thing I’m grateful for on Twitter. I committed to a yearlong #daysofgratitude campaign with my friend Jennifer.

9:30 a.m. Get to work and prepare for our weekly Monday a.m. meeting. Mondays are an internal day, meaning I usually don’t take any outside meetings. As I started spending more time on funding and media, that pulled me away from physically being in the office with my team, and they made it known that they miss having me around. So this is my solution.

10:30 a.m. Meeting starts. We decide to roll out our 2019 class of interns on April 1 and send out a press release announcing it. I update the team on revenue, including cash on hand and expected funding coming in. Everyone who works here believes in College to Congress and dedicates their lives to it, so I want to make sure I’m transparent with where we’re at and where we’re tracking.

1-2:30 p.m. Look at my funding pipeline and make a to-do list of companies and individuals I need to contact.

3-4 p.m. My executive coach, Kathleen, comes in. I started working with her in December, and it’s been a game-changer. We’ve gone through a lot of growth in a short time, and I’ve had to step back and think, How does my role need to transition and how do I need to personally grow?

4-4:30 p.m. The program director briefs me on the development of this year’s curriculum.

4:30-5:30 p.m. Interview a candidate for one of two open positions. (We’re currently a team of four full-timers.)

6 p.m. Run home, walk and feed my dog, and rush to dinner with one of our partners.


6:30 a.m. My morning routine is exactly the same, except I wake up with allergies and can’t make my 8:30 breakfast appointment. A colleague goes in my place.

10:30-11 a.m. Conference call with our PR team in New York City and my communications director, Domonique James. We’ve spent almost a year working with the House Committee of Administration to advocate for $14 million in funding for paid internships. Today, the interim guidelines were announced. We draft a press release and other statements to celebrate the accomplishment.

12-1:30 p.m. Meet with a monthly women’s group that is dedicated to increasing female representation among our officials in Congress.

2:30-3:30 p.m. Conference call with our fundraising consultant.

4 p.m. Schedule a dog walker to take care of Cooper since I’ll be home late.

5:30-6:30 p.m. Hop in a Lyft to meet with the editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy in Georgetown. Since I’m going crosstown, I have an hour to catch up on email.

8:30 p.m. Meet up with my boyfriend and some friends.

11:30 p.m. Get home, watch TV, and go to bed.


7 a.m. Wake up. Look at C2C’s social media from the previous days.

7:30 Let Cooper out.

7:45-8:45 a.m. Shower and get ready while listening to NPR’s “How I Built This.”

10:30-11:30 a.m. Meet with Google. We have worked on landing this meeting for half a year, so I couldn’t be more excited to share our work with them and see if there is a way to partner.

12 p.m. Have 71 unread emails in my inbox. Feel so overwhelmed I go into a conference room alone and spend two hours knocking them out.

2-2:30 p.m. The executive director of a local nonprofit comes in to pitch us on partnering for an upcoming event. Love his energy and vision, and introduce him to a contact on our team to handle it.

2:30-2:45 p.m. Quick coffee break.

2:45-3:05 p.m. Interview a candidate for our open COO position. It’s supposed to be an hour-long interview, but I know 15 minutes in that they aren’t the right culture fit so I cut it short. I think the most important thing I’ve learned about hiring is to trust my gut. It’s kind of like dating—you need to make sure you can hang out together.

3:05-4 p.m. Sync up with our staff associate to see how my schedule is shaking out this week.

4:30-5:30 p.m. Meet the senior producer of a TV show for drinks at the St. Regis downtown. We recently shot a segment, and I want to find more opportunities to get us on air and spreading our work.

5:30 p.m. Take care of my dog before running out for dinner.

7 p.m. Meet up with a former colleague who recently transitioned jobs.

9 p.m. Get home and make a list of what I need to pack for my upcoming trip to Taiwan sponsored by the country’s ministry of foreign affairs.

10 p.m. A few months ago I bought a house, so now, after three months of bills, I revisit and rewrite my budget.

12 a.m. I’m so hyped from the day I have a hard time getting to bed and falling asleep, but eventually, it happens.


5:30 a.m. I slept horribly last night. At this point, I decide to just wake up.

5:45-6:30 a.m. Yoga at home with my favorite YouTube star, Yoga with Adriene.

6:30 a.m. I start three loads of laundry so I’ll have clothes to pack tonight. I’ve missed my daily reading but make up for it with my Alexa Flash Briefing.

7:30 a.m. Respond to 29 emails and confirm on-air interview with Hearst TV for tomorrow.

11 a.m. I need time to handle personal business before going out of town, so I don’t come into the office until now.

11:30 a.m. Meet with the CEO of Public Affairs Counsel. He was like, “Here are the three ways I want to help you”—and that included financial support, connecting me to CEOs of Fortune 100 companies, and mentoring me as we grow. I think this is the beginning of an incredible relationship.

1 p.m. Interview another candidate.

2:30 p.m. Join more than 400 people on Capitol Hill to get briefed on the new intern pay regulations.

4 p.m. Work with our communications director on talking points for the following day.

4-6 p.m. Work on my funding to-do list that’s gotten somewhat neglected this week.

7 p.m. Take care of Cooper and start packing for Taiwan. The purpose is to discuss ways to build and strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan. This is my first sponsored trip to another country—and I’m beyond excited. I pour myself a few glasses of red wine while listening to a Willie Nelson record.


6:30 a.m. Wake up feeling super-sleepy, but with so much excitement pumping through me. Switch up my routine and listen to Beyoncé all morning while getting ready.

7:30 a.m. Play tug-of-war with Cooper and then sit with him while reading three articles dropped into our Slack channel. Review my talking points for on-air interview.

7:45-8:45 a.m. Make myself eggs. Do my hair and makeup.

9 a.m. Show up two minutes early for an interview with a COO candidate, knock it out, and run upstairs to do one final practice round with Domonique. She always sets me straight.

9:30 a.m. The Hearst TV camera crew shows.

10-10:40 a.m. Interview. We discuss the new House Internship Program Interim Regulations, College to Congress, and our alum. It will air in 26 cities.

10:45 a.m. Check emails and call two potential funders to set meetings.

11-11:30 a.m. Conference call with our event planner and corporate council chair to go over logistics for the gala for our new corporate leadership council. It takes place three days after I get back from Taiwan.

12-1:15 p.m. Meet with a board member for lunch at Joe’s Seafood. We have a super-inspiring conversation that helps me figure out some big challenges.

1:15 p.m. Move over to the bar at Joe’s and meet with a major foundation we’ve been in negotiations with for eight months. Get a verbal that the partnership is going to happen, and I can’t wait to announce it to the public.

2:28 p.m. Run upstairs to make our 2:30 social media metrics meeting.

3 p.m. Interview another candidate for the COO role.

3:45 p.m. Take five minutes of silence to breathe.

5 p.m. Every Friday we end our week with wins/loses. Each team member highlights something they are proud of and something that was a challenge.

5:45 p.m. One-on-one with my associate to shift my work over and make sure no balls got dropped while I’m out of the country.

6:45 p.m. Walk out of the office. While I feel accomplished, I’m upset I’m leaving late since it means pushing back dinner plans with my boyfriend.

7 p.m. Turn on my OOO!

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