By: Eric Ruble
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2021-2022 budget is $267.8 billion — far larger than many countries’. As a part of the plan, $5 billion is allocated to reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. That’s where master’s of public administration student Hannah Kohanzadeh comes in. She is one of just six people selected to be Graduate Summer Assistants in the California Department of Finance.
The second-year USC Price student had been looking for excuses to return to California after moving to the East Coast upon graduation from Occidental College in 2017. But while in Washington and Philadelphia, the native Angeleno found herself unable to stop talking about the Golden State. “I realized that I talked about it nonstop, much to the annoyance of – I’m sure – many other people,” she joked.
Kohanzadeh returned to Los Angeles and enrolled in the MPA program last fall.
This summer, she is focusing on the state’s zero-emission vehicle program. “I’m new to transportation and energy-related issues, but it’s exciting because California is a leader on all of this for national policies,” she said.
She will examine taxes and fees, how the state collects revenue, and how Newsom’s energy and infrastructure goals align with President Joe Biden’s.
“There’s a lot of crossover between state politics and national politics, so I think it’s going to be really interesting,” Kohanzadeh said.
During her time on the East Coast, she worked as a fellow at a Washington-based fiscal policy think tank before moving to Philadelphia, where she was a management budget consultant. In the latter role, she worked largely with local and state governments. “I grew to love it,” she said.
However, while she has worked adjacent to the government, Kohanzadeh has never been on taxpayers’ payroll. “[I’m] excited to see what it’s like to be working on a state budget and contributing to one of the largest budgets in the country,” she said.
Kohanzadeh believes there’s a misconception that budgeting and finance are “niche” areas of government.
“They touch anything and everything,” she said. “I personally think budgets are for people who want to be generalists or don’t want to be confined to just one issue area, because once you know the language of money, you’re useful in any policy arena.”
Even for students as accomplished as Kohanzadeh, landing such a coveted internship is a challenge. She said the staff at Price Career Services were key in helping her present herself as the most competitive applicant possible.
She collaborated with Valerie Savior and Dominic Alletto, who worked at Occidental when Kohanzadeh was an undergraduate there.
“I partially chose to come to Price because I knew that they were very on top of their game and knew that they cared deeply about their students,” Kohanzadeh said. “To me, that signaled that this is a very strong community.”
Due to the pandemic, Kohanzadeh will work for the Department of Finance remotely. But she plans to prove herself so she can build a career in Sacramento after graduating from Price.
“I’m hoping to end up there, which is why I was so excited about this internship.” Until then, she has an opportunity to apply what she’s learned at Price to serve her state and drive consequential change in one of its most innovative programs.