Social innovation interns reach new heights

Knowledge in Action:

USC Price’s Social Innovation Interns Reach New Heights

By Cristy Lytal

Hillary Epperson MPA student Hillary Epperson spent her summer as an intern with the City Heights office of the International Rescue Committee.
Photo by Tom Queally

The USC Price School of Public Policy’s first two social innovation interns blurred the lines between local and global arenas by serving refugees and other low-income residents of San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood.

The internships were organized and funded by the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, which was established as part of the school’s $50 million endowment and naming gift to honor the legacy of philanthropist and entrepreneur Sol Price. The center continues his work of promoting sustainable community development in City Heights and other low-income urban areas.

“These internships provide students unique opportunities to apply classroom lessons out in the field and to make a real, positive difference in people’s lives,” said Jack H. Knott, dean of USC Price.

Richard Parks, director of the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, added, “City Heights is a seed bed for social innovation. It is a rich learning environment where students can gain professional experience working alongside knowledgeable residents, practitioners and other community stakeholders.”

Master of Public Administration student Hillary Epperson spent her summer with the office of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in City Heights. The American branch of this international organization has provided relief to millions of refugees since 1933, when it was founded at the suggestion of Albert Einstein.

Amy Brennen MPP student Amy Brennen served residents of City Heights and nearby areas through her internship with La Maestra Community Health Centers.

Epperson interned in the food security and community health department, where she worked on yard share and land bank programs to connect unused land with refugees who need garden space to grow food. She also ran a community-supported agriculture program, which provides subscribers with weekly shares of produce from local farmers.

“Before this internship with IRC, I hadn’t really worked in a field that was close to what I actually want to do after I graduate in May,” said Epperson, who has a passion for international development and global health. “Because of that, it was really fulfilling for me. I had a great time, and it really confirmed for me that this is the field I want to work in.”

In addition, Epperson identified an organization where she would be thrilled to begin her career. If the opportunity arises, she said she will definitely apply for a full-time position with the IRC, which operates in 22 U.S. cities and more than 40 countries.

“They have connections all over the world,” Epperson said, “and we heard at our weekly office meetings about what’s going on in Syria and how it’s affecting refugees being able to apply to come to the U.S.

“That insight you get was really cool,” she added. “This was my best internship yet.”

Master of Public Policy student Amy Brennen also served low-income and immigrant residents in City Heights and nearby areas through her internship with La Maestra Community Health Centers. During her internship, she evaluated the company’s outreach and internal communications strategies and presented a report with recommendations.

“Eye opening” were the words Brennen used to describe the experience of working in a fast-paced nonprofit dedicated to providing health care to refugees and other low-income residents.

“I learned a lot in terms of career options,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in international issues, but I hadn’t considered working with refugees before. After working at La Maestra, I realized I can do internationally focused work here in the United States.”

Though her internship in City Heights has ended, Brennen has already started a new job that will keep her engaged in the neighborhood. USC Price Professor Gary Painter has hired her to help research School in the Park, a Price Charities program providing experiential and museum-based learning experiences for elementary school children.

“I just really enjoyed being in City Heights and would like to work there after graduation,” Brennen said. “In the meantime, I’m just helping out as much as I can.”