Buzz Around Washington Caps Student’s Paralegal Work, Study Away

Paralegal Libby McFarlen at the Lincoln Memorial
Libby McFarlen ’26, pictured at the Lincoln Memorial, spent her fall term in Washington, D.C., working as a paralegal intern for a criminal defense attorney.
Libby McFarlen at the Washington Memorial
McFarlen visited sites such as the Washington Monument while learning the ins and outs of what a paralegal does within the Washington court system.
Libby McFarlen at the Capitol Building
McFarlen snapped pictures from one end of the Washington Mall to the other with a Buzz the Hornet Squishmallow at sites such as the U.S. Capitol Building on her last day in Washington, D.C.

There was a Buzz floating through the air recently in Washington, D.C.

Although that could mean many things under different circumstances, in this case it means that a cuddly, orange-and-black representation of Kalamazoo College’s beloved mascot, Buzz—a Squishmallow, to be exact—was following Libby McFarlen ’26 around town for some Instagram-worthy photo opportunities while McFarlen concluded her study away experience.

“K is a small liberal arts college in Michigan, and I thought we needed to have some representation in Washington,” McFarlen said. “I just picked some of the major sites people think about with D.C. and took some pictures. We hit the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial as he basically went from one end of the National Mall to the other.”

McFarlen’s primary purpose in Washington, though, was to work as a paralegal with a criminal defense attorney through the Washington Center, an organization that provides immersive internships and academic seminars to students from 25 countries including the U.S. It was the perfect study away fit for McFarlen, a Kalamazoo native and Loy Norrix High School graduate, who plans to officially declare a political science major in February.

Both study abroad and study away programs involve firsthand chances to learn in locations far from campus, but study away offers opportunities specifically within the U.S. Many of them are credit-bearing and provide professional experience.

“It’s such an amazing program and it’s not talked about as much as study abroad,” McFarlen said of study away. “I just want K students to know that it’s not a lie to say this was a life-changing experience for me. It has reaffirmed what I want to do after graduating from K. If any student is interested in doing it, I would say just jump in and go for it. I had such a great time, and if I could go back and do it again next fall, that would be 110% fantastic.”

McFarlen commonly worked daily from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. side by side with the defense attorney, primarily in an office environment, but also in court, at a jail, in investigations and in meetings with clients. Although she was surprised how little attorneys are in front of a judge or at trial, the experience gave McFarlen a first-hand look at what might be her future profession.

Paralegal Libby McFarlen at the White House
McFarlen, here at the White House with a friend, interned in Washington through the Washington Center, which provides immersive internships and academic seminars to students from 25 countries.
Libby McFarlen at the National Museum of Natural History
McFarlen, pictured in the middle of the front row at the National Museum of National History, plans to return to Washington, D.C., in a few years to pursue her law degree.
Libby McFarlen at the National Mall
McFarlen praised K’s study away program while recognizing that she had a life-changing experience in Washington, D.C.

“We would go to court in the mornings, and I would take notes for him,” she said. “We would then come back and have client meetings. I really got to know the D.C. superior court system online because I learned how to file motions with the courts and, basically, how to do everything that a paralegal would do. It provided great insight into what it means to be a criminal defense attorney.”

Ultimately, McFarlen has yet to decide whether she wants to be an attorney or a lobbyist. Regardless, the next steps toward her future vocation would be to graduate from K and take a gap year or two before returning to Washington for law school. Her interest in politics makes the day after an election feel like Christmas morning, she said, meaning the location would be perfect for her continued education, hopefully somewhere such as Georgetown or American University.

“In D.C., there’s so much history and so much knowledge condensed into such a small area,” McFarlen said. “It was especially cool that I could do something like go into a Smithsonian anytime I wanted. I would be riding around in an Uber and I would constantly be reminded and shocked that I was in D.C., seeing the Capitol building sitting on the end of the National Mall. It was amazing to be there.”

Paralegal Libby McFarlen with two other Washington Center interns
McFarlen stayed in Washington Center housing while meeting other interns from across the U.S. and Canada.