Back in January 2018, about four months before he would graduate from Pfeiffer University, Marcus Sawyers was enjoying his finest moments as a player on the school’s basketball team. He had become a starting co-captain, and he was excelling as a shooter, having, for example, broken the program record for field goal production in a single game (91.6 percent) during a 113-85 victory over Greensboro College.
Yet, with 11 games to go in the season, Sawyers ended his career in college hoops and headed for Washington, D.C., where he would intern through the spring semester for Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga), a civil rights icon who has served in Congress since 1987. He parlayed the internship into full-time job for Lewis, for whom he’s performing various administrative tasks as a special assistant.
“I always loved playing basketball; it was an opportunity of a lifetime to play a collegiate sport,” Sawyers said. “I worked extremely hard throughout my high school career and while at Pfeiffer to get to my success, on top of that we had a very special team, and we were having a great season (21-4). But I knew that after I graduated, I wanted to be more than just a basketball player. I wanted to work in Washington, D.C. to start my next phase in life and leave my legacy. The internship definitely paid off.”
Sawyers expressed appreciation for the support that his coach, Jeremy Currier, showed for his internship, saying he was “very flexible” and “understood that there is life after basketball.” Currier is now coaching at Young Harris College in Georgia.
Sawyers, who’s from Mount Airy, holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and he minored in sociology. His institutional aid package was underwritten with endowed scholarships for criminal justice majors, including those named for Paul and Judy Leonard, Barton David Burpeau, Jr., Joe and Rebecca Carter, and Ray Harrington.
Sawyers had long wanted to see whether working in Washington would be a good fit for him. The internship with Lewis, which was under the auspices of Pfeiffer’s Capitol Hill Internship Program (CHIP), turned out to be a great way of finding out because of the multifaceted nature of the duties involved. Among other things, he screened telephone calls to Lewis and his staffers. He sorted mail. He scheduled staff-led tours of Capitol Hill. He supported Lewis’ legislative team as a researcher – which meant, for example, writing memos based on notes he had taken at briefings on various issues.
In time, Sawyers was even helping to persuade Lewis’ colleagues in Congress to sign on to legislative letters, a crucial form of support for legislation that the congressman was co-sponsoring on various issues.
“That was something I was definitely proud of,” Sawyers said. “It was definitely a lot of work and a lot of time, but it was one of the most rewarding things I was able to do. However, you’ve got to pay close attention to detail.”
Sawyers credits several experiences at Pfeiffer with enabling him to thrive as an intern, from seminars on how to network effectively to serving as a Student Ambassador. As an ambassador, he led campus tours, reached out to prospective students over the phone, and represented the university at various events; he found that the people skills he developed in the process could be applied to his duties in Washington.
Sawyers learned just days before commencement that he would be working full-time in Lewis’ office after graduating Pfeiffer. He said that he got the job because he treated his unpaid internship as if it were regular paid employment.
“I always put my full effort in,” he said. “Even though I was an intern, they treated me as if I were actually one of the staff members already – which made you want do even more good work.”
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.