USC Price School of Public Policy

From SoCal to South America, Price GSIF interns help improve communities

September 23, 2016

USC Price’s Graduate Summer Internship Fund provides scholarships for select master’s students who participate in unpaid summer internships at organizations whose work aligns with that of the Price School.


By Cristy Lytal

As many students can attest, an unpaid internship is good for the résumé, but bad for the bank account. That’s why students at the USC Price School of Public Policy initiated the creation of the Graduate Summer Internship Fund (GSIF).

“GSIF helps subsidize students’ costs for taking on an internship that’s unpaid, so they can still make their rent payment, groceries and other essentials while pursuing their passions,” said Scott Turner, director of the Office of Career Services at USC Price. “The internship opportunities provide them with real-life work experience, which is incredibly valuable as they explore career paths. A lot of these internships convert into full-time offers for our students.”

Price alumni Matthew González and Rhett Paranay led the charge to create GSIF while students in the Master of Public Policy (MPP) program. González and his colleagues from the Graduate Policy and Administration Community (GPAC) proposed the idea to Dean Jack H. Knott, who championed and funded the program. Additional support came from donors who contributed through a crowdfunding campaign.

“Last year was interesting, because a lot of the GPAC students encouraged their friends to give, whether it was small or large,” said Kristi Patton, director of Alumni Relations and Events at USC Price. “And that support was really amazing.”

Now in its second year, GSIF provided $3,500 scholarships to six master’s students pursuing full-time unpaid internships in the United States and abroad during this past summer.

Safety, fun and games in Rio


MPP student Kristen Nystrom, who is also pursuing a Certificate in Homeland Security and Public Policy, interned with the Department of State at the United States Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil.

In preparation for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Nystrom worked with the U.S. women’s soccer team to help ensure the security of the stadiums, athletes and spectators. Through the internship, she honed her skills in communication, time management and cultural adaptation. She credits USC Price with preparing her to excel in the position.

“The biggest takeaway I got from my graduate degree thus far is teamwork and working in a group,” she said. “And that definitely helped this summer, because everything in the government is done on small teams and is very hierarchical.”

The experience cemented her desire to pursue a job in federal law enforcement.

“I’ve been interested in working for the federal government throughout my time in college and in my master’s program,” Nystrom said. “I have law enforcement and military members in my family, and I’ve just always been drawn to the fast-paced [nature] – different locations, different jobs every day – and then obviously to helping citizens. At the end of the day, you know you’re making a difference when you’re protecting Americans, protecting citizens.”

Off the beaten path in Peru

MPP student Ellie Lawther in Peru during her internship

MPP student Ellie Lawther in Peru during her internship

MPP student Ellie Lawther interned with the Pure Art Foundation, a registered Canadian charity working to empower impoverished communities through health, shelter, education, skill development and entrepreneurship programs.

Lawther first got involved with the foundation in 2014, when she went on a volunteer trip to build houses in a community of 15,000 settlers on the outskirts of Pucallpa, Peru.

During the first segment of her internship, Lawther worked in the foundation’s head office in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec, Canada. She then traveled to Pucallpa with her friend and volunteer translator Leslie Shim, a Master of Public Administration (MPA) student pursuing a certificate in International Policy and Planning. They went door-to-door, interviewing people who had received houses, health care, freshwater wells and other services from the foundation.

The resulting impact report provides valuable feedback for the young foundation and will help shape future projects.

“Ellie’s decision to apply for a scholarship to assist our efforts with impact surveys, assessments and reporting have helped us achieve goals we could not have afforded,” said Pure Art’s co-founder Robert McKinnon. “Ellie is a remarkable person with pure intention and solid skills to navigate effectively on her quest for purposeful work in the world. Whatever she does, wherever she goes, the world will be better for it.”

In the immediate future, Lawther hopes to work for the City of Los Angeles or the City of Santa Barbara in a capacity related to planning and social justice.

“One thing we really noticed in Peru is a lot of the problems they face socially, we face here in the States,” she said. “And from my perspective, I think we can make an equally strong impact doing that same work here at home in our communities.”

Downtown as a destination

MPL student Max Sherman

MPL student Max Sherman

Max Sherman, a Master of Planning (MPL) student, interned with Bringing Back Broadway, an initiative led by Los Angeles City Councilmember José Huizar.

“It’s hard to do an internship when you’re not having any financial support,” Sherman said. “GSIF allowed me to apply for this internship, which I normally wouldn’t have done.”

Focused on revitalizing the historic Broadway District in downtown Los Angeles, the initiative is comprised of a pedestrian-oriented streetscape plan, a streetcar, policies to reactivate vacant commercial space and theaters in historic buildings, and other economic development incentives.

“I didn’t really go to downtown that much before I started graduate school,” Sherman said. “So when I was able to walk into City Hall for the first time, just to see how beautiful a building that is and everything that’s going on, it struck me. And then I got to tour some of the historic theaters: the United Artists Theatre at the Ace Hotel, the Globe, the Orpheum. You see so much potential of what Broadway could be as a shopping or nightlife destination — which it’s starting to become thanks to the efforts of this initiative.”

Sherman performed research about new investment, worked on an inventory of buildings and their histories, and updated signage guidelines. He produced marketing materials for Night on Broadway, an annual arts and music festival. He also provided policy review and analysis about the streetcar, drafted press releases and motions, and attended meetings with developers, city agencies and stakeholders.

“Max adeptly and dependably completed a wide range of assignments with professionalism, enthusiasm and a refreshingly positive attitude,” said Jessica Wethington McLean, executive director of Bringing Back Broadway. “Of all the interns I have had through the years, the USC students have consistently been the most prepared and able to apply tangible skills to the work of the City Council office.”

“The program deserves credit,” she added, “for assisting these students in their professional preparation and for providing an opportunity for them to pursue experiences like this internship that show them the real-world application of skills and information gained through their classroom education.”

A kick-start for startups

MPA student Fiahna Cabana

MPA student Fiahna Cabana

MPA student Fiahna Cabana served as a fellow with the civic organization, GRID110. In partnership with the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, GRID110 fosters the startup ecosystem in downtown L.A. by connecting up-and-coming companies to office space, mentors and resources.

“I’m really passionate about connecting entrepreneurs and social innovators to financial, social or even human capital to bring their ideas and impact to scale,” said Cabana. “A lot of the startups are in the Santa Monica and Venice area, and bringing back some of that creativity to downtown L.A. will help to really revive the community here. For me to be part of this is really helping not only to expand my knowledge of startups in general, but also learn more about the legal side of things, financing and marketing.”

Cabana worked on coordinating guest speakers and event logistics for a startup bootcamp. She brought in four different venture capitalists as speakers on an investor panel, followed by a happy hour reception. She also explored potential partnerships with organizations that help the poor and homeless in downtown Los Angeles to put together free startup and e-commerce workshops.

“Fiahna’s been outstanding,” said Justin Wolske, founding member of GRID110. “She’s incredibly organized, and she is capable to take on the directives with no initial guidance. We’re just very thankful to have her.”

Open to debate

IPPAM student Steve Martinez

IPPAM student Steve Martinez

Steve Martinez, an International Public Policy and Management (IPPAM) student, interned at the Bay Area Urban Debate League (BAUDL), an education and youth development nonprofit.

“I wanted to help out the students that the nonprofit served,” Martinez said. “Having once been the recipient of a nonprofit’s services, I felt a need to volunteer with a program that did not have the funding to bring on additional resources, but could use the extra help. The financial award alleviated the concerns of having to find a paid internship.”

Martinez performed research projects, helped with data management, contacted potential donors, volunteered at weekend debate tournaments and even assisted with the Middle School Western States Championship. In addition, Martinez credits the internship with enabling him to experience firsthand how nonprofits are run.

Working with Steve was fantastic,” said Jenna Dookun, BAUDL’s program director during the internship. “I gave Steve projects with competing priorities, and he met all the deadlines. Steve was very easy to communicate with, very responsible. If he had questions about projects, he was sure to ask me about them as soon as I finished giving directions — overall a very good experience, very easy to work with. I hope this program can continue so that other nonprofits have the opportunity to advance their cause through the hard work of passionate young people.”

Hands-on health care

MHA student Talar Kakilian

MHA student Talar Kakilian

Talar Kakilian, a Master of Health Administration (MHA) student, served as an administrative resident at the USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.

She assessed the amount of benefits – such as public seminars, lectures and health fairs – that the hospital provided for the community that it serves. She helped create survey books for physicians, worked on developing departmental policies and procedures, and handled a variety of other assignments.

In addition to developing time management skills, she appreciated the opportunity to build her network and to experience the inner workings of a hospital.

“I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I want to do,” Kakilian said. “I know I want to work in an administrative position, but I also really want to work in policy. So to have the opportunity to not be stuck within one department, but to be able to float around and really understand how everything is so interconnected, I appreciated very much.”

Throughout the summer, the hospital’s CEO Keith Hobbs and COO Kenny Pawlek served as her mentors.

“Talar writes well, asks great questions and seeks a deeper understanding of the problem or issue,” Pawlek said. “She’s worked hard to begin projects, understand what it’s like to work in a hospital setting and learn what areas in health care are her passion. I’ve enjoyed seeing her grow and mature as a professional over the last few months.”

According to Turner, the experience gained during internships far outweighs the pay.

“It’s the actual experience, and it’s the ability to be able to work on real-life issues and network with key people in the industry,” he said. “It really opens up students’ eyes to opportunities that they maybe hadn’t thought about, and GSIF allows them to be able to do this and not sacrifice finances.”