Banner for What it's Like Working as a Researcher on the Congressional Outreach. The banner says "The biggest thing we took away from this is always saying yes to opportunities posted in Slack despite not knowing what the project is. Ultimately, the outreach report has a high impact on Veterans across the country as this Congressional Report helps to determine budgets for various VA offices".

What It’s Like Working as a Researcher on a Congressional Outreach Report

Monique Quihuis and Hannah Bundschuh joined the Digital Media Engagement (DME) Intern
program’s research team for the summer 2020 season. Being new interns, they were eager to
scout out work and kept a close eye for work postings. One day, a member of the researching
team’s leadership posted a request for help with a special project. Though they did not know
much regarding the specifics of the project, Monique and Hannah promptly voiced their interest
in helping.

A few days after announcing their interest with the project, DME Internship leaders briefed them
on the details. Monique and Hannah found out they signed up to help research for the Veterans
Affairs’ (VA) 2020 Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs (OPIA) report. The report
serves as a vital means for Congress to assess the outreach efforts made by VA services and
determining the amount of funding they should receive. As the two learned more about their
task, they became nervous and contemplated their qualifications. Both had prior experience
practicing research methods for their coursework. However, they did not expect to use their skills
in such a high-stakes setting, one where millions of dollars in funding to the VA depended on the
quality of their work.

Though the project had a comfortable six-week timeframe, Monique and Hannah operated under
their own accelerated timeline to ensure the report would be done on time. When they began, all
they had was one massive master document of answers provided by different VA offices
regarding the outreach activities they conducted since the last OPIA report to Congress. The two
researchers broke down the document into separate files. They then looked over each office’s
answers and pulled out notable quantitative outcomes which writers would center their content
around. They found out some offices did not provide much detail in their responses and they
often reached out to their provided points of contact to secure more information. At times, they
even needed to do their own calculations using numbers provided by offices to produce
quantitative outcomes. Only after all this information was obtained did writers and editors have
the necessary information to get started.

As important as their work was for kicking off the project, Monique and Hannah needed to
remain active throughout the rest of the project until the final document was submitted.
Whenever a writer needed clarification on information an office provided, they messaged
Monique and Hannah for assistance. Our two researchers would then reach out to the office’s
point of contact. They planned out their messages accordingly so that they did not bother the
office with too many emails. This relationship lasted until all writers and editors completed the
writing process. Afterwards, the researchers were tasked with consolidating the many write-ups
into a single document before sending it off to DME Intern leadership.

Monique and Hannah put in a lot of time and effort to fulfill their part of this project. Though
initially nervous, they eventually got into the groove of things and even began enjoying their
research duties. The two spent the majority of their weekly internship hours on the project, and
oftentimes exceeded the expected 10 hours minimum for the internship to ensure the writers had
ample and high-quality information to work with. When DME Intern leadership received the
report, the two researchers received nothing short of praise for their excellent work.

With the report submitted and ready to be presented to Congress later in the year, Monique and
Hannah are glad they could help Veterans through their research skills.

Editor: Elissa Tatum
Researcher/Fact Checker: Monique Quihuis
Researcher/Fact Checker: Hannah Bundschuh

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