At 26, Audrey Henson founded College to Congress, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to create a more inclusive and effective Congress by empowering the next generation of public servants. College to Congress helps high-achieving, low-income students secure full-time internships in Congress and covers the true cost of an unpaid internship (amounting to about $10,000 per intern).
In just two years Audrey has raised over $870,000 from philanthropic foundations such as The Hewlett Foundation and Democracy Fund and corporations like Salesforce, BP, Toyota, Visa, WeWork, Comcast, AT&T, and more. She has also partnered with over 50 Members of Congress and C2C efforts are championed by Senators Tim Scott and Maggie Hassan, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, and Representatives Fred Upton and Steny H. Hoyer.
Audrey Henson created College to Congress to level the playing field so that eager-to-serve students wouldn’t have to endure the same barriers she faced beginning a career in public service. Audrey was raised by a hardworking single mom in a small Texas town, but no matter how hard she worked, they never seemed to escape the poverty cycle. By 5th grade, Audrey was labeled at-risk. Through perseverance and the federal Pell Grant, she was able to go to college at the University of South Florida. While studying political science and theatre, she sought the opportunity to intern in Congress (the first step in working as a legislative aide).
However, Audrey was met with barriers from the start. More than 90% of Congressional internships are unpaid. As a Pell Grant student, Audrey had to work two side jobs and take out
$6,500 in student loans in order to afford the opportunity to intern for free in Congress. As a result, she also missed critical networking opportunities like receptions, dinners, and policy briefings because of her other jobs. She noticed her fellow interns from wealthier and more well-connected families did not have to make those same sacrifices. But once she got to DC,
Audrey was immediately hooked. The Hill internship became her launching pad. Audrey went on to work in Congress as an aide, serve as campaign manager for 2016’s most contested congressional campaign, and in 2014 even helped get the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
College to Congress has become incredibly competitive with an acceptance rate of less than 4%. In early 2017, Audrey Henson was selected out of over 11,000 companies for a WeWork Creator Award and Echoing Green’s 2018 Social Impact Talent Report. Audrey is featured inThe New York Times,CBS News,The Washington Business Journal,Politico and more. Audrey Henson believes our democracy is only effective when it becomes the representative body it was created to be. She is dedicated to giving people from diverse backgrounds and life experiences a seat at the table, building a government that works better for everyone.
AAPC: What does being a 2019 AAPC 40 Under 40 Award winner mean to you?
Audrey: Being included in the AAPC 40 under 40 2019 list is so humbling. When I started College to Congress three short years ago, I was not expecting to be at the size we are now, much less receiving media attention and winning awards. It’s extremely validating to be recognized for all the late nights and early mornings I’ve invested in my organization.
AAPC: What’s next for you this year?
Audrey: We are laser-focused on scaling our program and increasing advocacy efforts for systemic change. Our team has more than doubled and we just accepted our largest intern class yet. Looking forward, I am most excited to meet our 2019 class come to DC at the end of May.
AAPC: Who do you look up to in the industry and why?
Audrey: Wendy Kopp from Teach for America. She took an idea, grew it from the ground up, and built a foundation that allowed TFA to thrive without her daily management.
AAPC: Tell us about something you’re most proud of accomplishing in your professional career.
Audrey: I am most proud of founding College to Congress at the age of 26. Multiple times throughout my life, I was the only one I could rely on. Having the courage to constantly take chances and risks on myself has paid off to get me where I am today.