His first assignment was to clean out the closet of overflowing old files, photos, wires and unused telephones. Now, he is helping with case work for Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in the local district office, something that unpaid interns don’t normally handle.
Plattsburgh State economics and political science dual major Joel Wood has been working for the congresswoman since March in one of the three 21st District offices.
Wood said that since the congresswoman has settled into the office, many clerical duties have ended, and he is now working on more official duties of helping people and assisting the community.
Wood said the work he’s doing is self-fulfilling. They are helping individuals who feel there is no other option. People contact the office for assistance with an issue they are having usually after they have exhausted every other avenue. The district office acts as a liaison to help them solve their problem.
“When we can help the issue or reach a favorable conclusion to their case, that is a wonderful feeling,” he said.
As a district office, one of their duties is to help local community agencies seek grant money because most receive their funds through the federal government. He said that one day his supervisor had a meeting with a nearby fire department, and she asked him to come along. Ten minutes before the meeting, he received a message that she was running late. He was unaware of what the meeting was about, what they would be asking for or with whom he would be speaking.
“I felt like I grew within the hour that I was there,” Wood said. “ Walking in, I was so timid and afraid, and at the end I was like, ‘I can do anything.’ I fought the world and won.”
After that experience, he said he felt as though he was much more ready to leave college, work and become an adult.
His mother, Jennifer Favreau, said Wood’s internship has helped him see the other side of things from an older perspective. She said she hopes that this is his way into the politicals.
“I’ve been saying since we’ve met that he was going to do amazing things,” girlfriend Cari Dominic said. “One day he’s not going to be changing lives in the office. He’s going to be changing lives everywhere.”
PSUC Center for Student Involvement Coordinator and former congressional intern Jake Avery learned about the opening in the congresswoman’s office and suggested to Wood, who was looking for more experience, should apply.
“Joel’s an incredible student,” Avery said. “When I think of the best of the SUNY Plattsburgh students, I think of Joel.”
He said he thinks Wood is professional and hard-working and that while Wood understands what it means to be a student, he also understands how to get when he needs to get. He said he hopes he stays in the congresswoman’s office in a more permanent position after he graduates.
“He has taken on a more direct caseload recently, which is a huge step,” Avery said. “It is only going to benefit him in the future.”
After a 3-year-long relationship, Dominic said he is dedicated to the point where he doesn’t stop until he reaches the problem at hand.
“I’ve never known anyone to work as hard as he does,” Dominic said. “He’s not afraid to take risks and put himself out there.”
Since Wood left his hometown of West Chazy and arrived at PSUC, he immersed himself in the campus. His first leadership position was in the Student Association, which he joined within his first weeks at school.
“I was so young,” Wood said. “I didn’t even know how college worked, let alone the student government.”
As he was serving his term as speaker of the senate, he joined PSUC Model United Nations, held a position on the executive board and attended his first Model UN conference.
Since then, he joined the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, and was a site leader for his first Alternative Spring Break trip to Mount Rogers, Virginia for two consecutive years.
Wood said he learned he had to stay positive in what could be a miserable situation and to always smile because his group was watching. He returned to the same trip as a site leader the next year.
“Attitudes are contagious, just like emotions or even laughter,” he said. “You have to have a smile, you have to joke around, and if you do, then it makes the trip 100 times better.”
During the second half of Wood’s sophomore year, he became a resident assistant and continued that role until the end of his junior year.
Now, in his senior year, Wood is interning with Congresswoman Stefanik and a local law firm, working at Sweet Frog and taking 12 credits. He said he does sleep and complete his homework.
“Every single semester since my freshman year, I’ve always said: ‘This is the semester where I’m going to relax and enjoy my life,’” Wood said. “This semester I’m relaxing and finally enjoying college a little bit more than I have in the past.”
Favreau said Wood has always seen the good in everything and that he doesn’t judge anyone, always giving people the benefit of the doubt.
“He has an amazing head on his shoulders and is very goal oriented and would never do anything to mess that up,” Favreau said. “I am very lucky and extremely proud of him.”
Wood said students shouldn’t be afraid to get involved early. He said it’s scary at first but worth it.
“My second piece of advice is to make time for yourself,” he said. “Do the things you love, and don’t be afraid to slow down because if you get caught up in the things that you are doing, you can quickly lose sight of yourself.”
Email Lisa Scivolette at firstname.lastname@example.org