When economics major Brian Trainer passed through metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs on his first day as an intern on the White House campus, he realized he was about to become part of something much bigger than himself.

Brian Trainer, intern, Economics, Council of Economic Advisers

Economics intern Brian Trainer, right, worked at the Council of Economic Advisers, led by chairman Kevin Hassett.
Image Credit: Submitted

The Moorestown, N.J., rising senior recently wrapped up a spring semester internship with the president’s Council of Economic Advisers in the iconic Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. It was five months unlike the 21-year-old Clemson University student had ever experienced.

“I was just as excited on the last day of my internship as the day I began,” he said. “And it was by far the best job I’ve ever had. Beyond the professional experience, it matured me in many ways.”

Brian’s role with the agency that advises the president on domestic and international economic policy involved research in the areas of international food-aid allocations, prison reform and domestic trade. The agency drafts papers and memos based on researchers’ statistical data.

“One of the first things I learned was mediocrity wasn’t acceptable. You had to be on your game every minute of every day because you weren’t just representing yourself, but an important arm of the government, one that made me feel I was part of something very special. It was an exciting environment in which to work. For me, the novelty and privilege of being there never wore off.”

Clemson’s College of Business has well established ties to the Council of Economic Advisers. Scott Baier, chair of the John E. Walker Department of Economics, served as a senior economist from 2007-2008 in George W. Bush’s administration. And Clemson business school alum Will Ensor ’15 currently serves as a research economist at the agency. Following Brian in an internship role this summer with the agency will be Jesse Dennis, a rising junior economics major and Lyceum Scholar who hails from the Washington, D.C., area.

The Council of Economic Advisers is led by chairman and presidential appointee Kevin Hassett who oversees a team of about 35 employees that includes senior economists and research assistants. “It’s a very academic setting with every full-time employee being a Ph.D. and at the top of their field,” Brian said.

By design, Baier said, the agency brings in very accomplished economists for short-term appointments to ensure “outside the Beltway” thinking and objectivity.

“It’s important for the agency to provide independent, thoughtful and rigorous analysis of data to the president,” Baier said. “By bringing in promising scholars from outside the Beltway for shorter stints, the agency is able to develop theory-based empirical analysis for new proposals as well as craft new arguments to stop the government from implementing some of the bad ideas that have circulated inside the Beltway for decades.”

Brian’s time outside the Eisenhower Building involved taking in many of the sights the nation’s capital has to offer. There were also some sightings to be had thanks to intern housing being adjacent to the U.S. Capitol Building.

“The interns lived in the same neighborhood as some pretty well-known Washington political figures. It wasn’t unusual to see the likes of (Sen.) Marco Rubio, (Sen.) Bernie Sanders or even (Senate majority leader) Mitch McConnell walking in the neighborhood. And in my workplace, Vice President (Mike) Pence worked two floors below me in the Eisenhower Building.”

Other than his arrival at Clemson as a freshman, Brian said the Washington experience was the first time he moved to a city without “knowing a soul.” It allowed him to mature in a way that a lot of students don’t experience until after graduation.

“I had to make new friends, adjust to work and figure out where I was going to eat in a very unfamiliar environment, so living in Washington forced me to grow up in a big way,” he said. “I feel more confident and independent, and it helped prepare me for my internship this summer in New York City.”

Brian will begin his internship in late May at the Jeffries Group where he’ll be trading fixed income assets at the investment bank. Last summer, he interned at a wealth management firm whose clients included professional athletes.

“The internships have been great learning and maturing opportunities and I have the econ faculty to thank for them, especially professors Baier and (Peter) Blair,” Brian said. “But I am looking forward to returning to campus for my final year. I want to savor every second I have left at Clemson.”

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