Make The Connection

July 27, 2022 | By Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan student Blake Johnson ’24 spent his summer in Washington, D.C., completing an educational program offered by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. (Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Institute)

Working in Washington

Ohio Wesleyan Student Spends Summer Completing D.C. ‘Get Real’ Experiences

Name: Blake Johnson ’24
Hometown: Centerburg, Ohio
Major: Politics and Government with a concentration in Public Diplomacy
Minors: Communication and International Studies
OWU Connection Experiences: A summer internship and educational program experience in Washington, D.C. 

Johnson spent June and July in the nation’s capital, where he worked as a grants intern with The Salvation Army and completed the Leadership and the American Presidency (LTAP) program offered jointly by The Fund for American Studies and by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. Yoyo Kebede ’24 of Washington, D.C., also participated in the LTAP program.

Johnson earned two OWU Connection grants – a Theory-to-Practice Grant and a Small Program Grant – to support living and working in Washington, D.C., enabling him to complete these transformational experiences.

Blake Johnson ’25 (wearing glasses) visits the Lincoln Memorial with friends from The Fund for American Studies program. (Photo by Connor Merk)

My Path to D.C.

“It was by sheer luck that I stumbled upon Leadership and the American Presidency through the Ronald Reagan Institute. They gave a brief webinar during a career fair at OWU, and I was immediately hooked.

“They spoke on the development of leadership skills and the ‘get real’ element of the program, something that tied in very nicely with OWU’s message.

“My calling has always been public service, and they were offering to put me in that field firsthand in the heart of Washington, D.C. It is for these reasons that I seized the opportunity as quickly as I could and readied myself for a summer of experiential learning and growth.”

My Favorite Moment

“By far my favorite moment was the Braver Angels debate, a forum for students to debate hot-button issues, ask questions of the student speakers, and reach a consensus.

“My fellow students and I listened to four speeches arguing for or against gun control. At the beginning, students were clearly entrenched on one side or the other. Yet the longer the speeches went on, the more each of us realized that not one speaker had all the answers.

“By the end, the room was no longer divided along ‘us v. them’ lines. Instead, we all collectively recognized the value of each and every opinion. In fact, we even diverged from the resolution that we were arguing in the first place!

“What started out as a discussion about gun control turned into a discussion about mental health resources, healthcare, mass shootings, the safety of students and teachers, and much more.

“The point is simple: Braver Angels taught me how to work with others, question everything, and reach an acceptable consensus with those I disagree with.”

LTAP Lessons

“Through the Leadership and the American Presidency programs and events, I learned about hyperpartisanship and all the dangers that it brings. It is one thing to talk about populism and its attack on democracy, but it is another entirely to see hyperpartisanship in the youth melt away because of education.

“It is so easy to get bogged down in negative media about polarization between Right and Left, but this program gave me hope for the future of the youth. It brought together people from all walks of life, from many U.S. states, even from across the globe, to interact in a shared space. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than this.

“This program taught me how to network professionally. I had the opportunity to meet with White House Fellows, former White House Secretaries, Congressmen and Congresswomen, diplomats, and many more high-ranking officials. Through these networking moments, I gleaned advice and direction.

“These moments helped me expand upon my own interests into a career field, diplomacy, which set me on the path to becoming a Foreign Service Officer. These connections are critical as I make my breakthrough into public service and will remain critical as I begin applying to jobs to jumpstart my career.

“Experiences like this are truly once-in-a-lifetime. They took all my preconceived notions about government and public service and threw them out the window, giving me an inside look into the place where it all happens. I am forever grateful to OWU for helping me land this internship and the Ronald Reagan Institute for this fantastic opportunity.”

As part of his OWU Connection-related experiences in Washington, D.C., Blake Johnson ’25 worked as a grants intern under the supervision of Angela Soriano at The Salvation Army National Capital Area Command. (Photo by Joey Tran)

Salvation Army Lessons

“During my time with The Salvation Army, I learned the importance of using sales tactics in order to sustain the efforts of nonprofits. For instance, I wrote many grant proposal drafts for Turning Point Center, a hand-up program designed to help young single mothers work and save money.

“Some funders have traditionally responded well to direct, blunt verbiage. For these proposals, I incorporated annual statistics and facts. By contrast, some funders liked flowery, creative language. For these proposals, I focused less on the statistics and more on the unique stories of families impacted by job loss and mental health struggle.

“The key lesson I learned is that framing is everything, and there is no one-size-fits-all model for selling nonprofit work to potential donors.”

My OWU Mentors

“I have two OWU faculty mentors: Politics and Government professors Jim Franklin and Franchesca Nestor. They have guided me along the course-selection process, and even throughout life, in my time here. They have made me feel welcome, have always been open to questions and concerns, and welcome opportunities like Leadership and the American Presidency.

“Soon, as I look into careers in public affairs and possibly graduate school, they will help me through that process, too. Also, special shoutout to Newton Kimberly (Career Connection office) for helping me hone my resume-building and application skills!”

Why I Chose Ohio Wesleyan

“I was instantly attracted to the campus culture and liberal arts style of education. When I visited here, it felt like home.”

My Plans After Graduation

“I will likely work in the Ohio Statehouse or in Washington, D.C., for the State Department. I plan to go into the Foreign Service to become a diplomat.

“My passion for diplomacy was kickstarted by Leadership and the American Presidency. Thanks to an OWU Theory-to-Practice Grant and Small Grant Program, I was able to live and work in Washington, D.C., without having to pay any out-of-pocket expenses.

“Thanks to the Career Connection office and my faculty mentors, I was able to craft an effective application and revise my resume, both being key elements of my acceptance into the program.”