Visible Connect #TeamTuesday: Meet College to Congress

In 2021, Visible proudly announced the third cohort of its annual Visible Connect Accelerator Program, which supports nonprofit organizations changing their communities using mobile technology. In partnership with Uncharted, Visible Connect awards each nonprofit in the accelerator a $15,000 financial grant and free mobile devices with one year of Visible service. Visible and Uncharted will work alongside these game-changing entrepreneurs to help them elevate their organizations and connect them with the resources, services, expertise and relationships they need to accelerate their impact. Over the next few weeks, Visible will continue to introduce all six of the inspiring nonprofit within our cohort, honing in on how they’re using mobile technology to create meaningful change in our community.

Audrey Hensen is the founder of College to Congress, an internship program committed to creating a more inclusive and effective Congress by empowering the next generation of public servants.

C2C founder, Audrey Hensen, discusses her nonprofit and how Visible Connect will help it scale

How and why did you launch College to Congress?
As a Pell Grant recipient and unpaid intern in college, I was forced/coerced to take out student loans to pursue my dream of working on Capitol Hill. Once I finally landed a full-time, low-wage job doing what I loved, I realized that I couldn’t survive solely on pursuing my passion. I worked two jobs as a bartender and at a retail store to pay the bills. Juggling multiple jobs to stay afloat was nearly impossible, and I met many other low-income, diverse, and women who were suffering from the same problems I was having. I became dedicated to finding the solution and working to give everyone an equal opportunity. I launched College to Congress in 2016 so future students, regardless of background, could pursue their dreams and change Congress from the inside out. Breaking barriers for lower-income students to intern on Capitol Hill will make Congress more effective, efficient, and representative of the American people.

Who is the program designed for?
Members and staff are not truly reflective of all Americans and their backgrounds. This is why we intentionally recruit communities that historically have not had a seat at the table; low-income, students of color, women, veterans, and DACA recipients. Our Flagship Summer Congressional Internship Program is designed for high-achieving students from across the political spectrum who are seeking internships on Capitol Hill. We help students secure an  internship with one of our 70 Congressional Champions. Our program also covers all associated expenses, pairs interns with a mentor from the opposite political party, and provides training and development throughout the internships.

How does technology help you achieve your mission?
In 2019, we began creating an online curriculum, mentorship program, and intern placement hub designed to help college students and recent graduates secure and succeed in paid internships on Capitol Hill known as C2C University to launch in 2020. It just so happened that the rest of the world went virtual, and we were able to launch earlier than expected. Launching C2C-U has helped us make a much larger impact than before—going from helping about one hundred students since our founding to more than eight hundred on our web and mobile web platforms.

Is there a success story you can share?
During our 2018 Summer internship class, one of the interns who participated in our internship program went on to secure a full-time job in a Senator’s office and now on a Senate Committee. She says without the help of College to Congress and the tools, training, and resources we provided, she wouldn’t be where she is today. This intern was raised in a diverse household outside of Los Angeles and identified more as a democrat. She was anxious about our Bipartisan Allies program, where we partner students with staffers from opposite political parties. It’s not a unique perspective, but she was nervous her beliefs would contrast with her Republican counterpart. But by the end of the program, she learned how to navigate difficult political conversations to find common ground, and their friendship and mentorship grew beyond Capitol Hill.

How do you think participating in the Visible Connect accelerator will help the organization and you as a leader?
In 2020 I was excited to see our program undergo tremendous growth, but our growth exposed several growing pains, and brought on challenges we never anticipated. Between the Accelerator and the direct mentorship I have received through Visible employees learning best practices for the private sector, I am confident C2C will come out stronger than ever with a scalable model to achieve our mission to create a more diverse and reflective Congress.

When are you running for Congress?
Haha well, my goal is to fix some of the more institutional problems from my role on the outside before I take on any other political challenges currently facing our country.  On a more serious note, my sole focus is doing the best I can to ensure Congress can be the most effective and efficient governing body through my work with College to Congress. I love what I do and want to continue providing opportunities for some of our best and brightest so that the next generation of public servants are more representative of the American people they serve.

Visit our Visible Connect page to learn more about College to Congress and the entire Year 3 cohort of Visible Connect.