USC Price Graduate Student Internship Fund helps students who help communities

October 14, 2018

GSIF 2018

By Cristy Lytal

In many cases, internships pay little or nothing in terms of salary — but pay huge dividends in terms of experience. That’s why the USC Price School of Public Policy offers the Graduate Student Internship Fund (GSIF), which provides $2,000 scholarships to master’s students pursuing unpaid internships during the summer.

“For so many of the service-oriented and civil service-focused jobs, you have unpaid internships,” said Dominic Alletto, associate director of employer relations at the USC Price Office of Career Services, which administers the fund. “It’s really important that we try to support our students, and this is one of the best ways that we can do it. In another way, we’re also helping to support and give back to the community.”

The graduate students themselves originally recognized the need to create GSIF. Price alumni Matthew González and Rhett Paranay came up with the idea when they were students in the Master of Public Policy (MPP) program in 2015. Along with their fellow students from the Graduate Policy and Administration Community, they brought the proposal for GSIF to Dean Jack H. Knott, who funded the program. Current students as well as alumni contribute additional support.

This summer, GISF enabled six master’s students to pursue their passions with unpaid internships at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), one of seven agencies under the umbrella of the California Environmental Protection Agency; Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA); Empower LA; and the Office of Los Angeles Councilmember Jose Huizar.

Making connections at the FCC

Master of Public Administration (MPA) student Roxanna Barboza interned for three different bureaus at the FCC.

For the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, Barboza analyzed best practices for backup power during natural disasters. She also assembled a contact list of industry CEOs to facilitate communication in the event of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or wildfire.

“The executive contact list project was unstructured and required Roxy to work in an agile way with fellow interns and with the FCC library to supplement her data analytics skills,” said Jeffery Goldthorp, Associate Bureau Chief at the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. “She was exceptional at overcoming obstacles and, as a result, the bureau now has a prototype application that we can use during disasters to connect senior leadership with executives in the communications sector.”

For the FCC’s Office of Workplace Diversity, Barboza worked on strategies for recruiting diverse applicants to the FCC. These strategies included establishing partnerships with local government offices and nonprofits, providing informational training for each FCC bureau and improving social media outreach.

Lastly, for the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, Barboza helped organize and document a meeting for the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee.

Barboza was inspired to pursue this opportunity during a visit to her family in California’s Central Valley. Due to poor Internet connection in the area, she recalled how her brother – a high school student with dual enrollment at a local college – was unable to submit his assignment. Instead, he typed his college essay into his cell phone and texted it to a friend who lived an hour away.

And because of that, she began researching the topic of Internet access in rural areas and realized the FCC might be a good place to pursue her passion.

GSIF enabled her to pass up a paid internship, and accept the unpaid opportunity at the FCC that better aligned with her interests.

“I’m more interested in [this topic] than ever,” Barboza said, “and I don’t think I would’ve gone to the FCC if it wasn’t for GSIF.”

Advocating for the mentally ill at the ACLU

MPA student Marylin Arevalo, right

Marylin Arevalo, who is pursuing MPA and Master of Social Work degrees, interned at the ACLU during the summer, and will continue as a volunteer during the academic year.

At the ACLU, Arevelo’s work focuses on research and advocacy related to mental health and substance abuse. During the summer, she summarized and compiled data about more than 50 incidents involving the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and the injury or death of individuals who were either mentally ill or under the influence. She pulled the data from several sources, including the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio and the District Attorney’s website.

“A key finding that stood out in the data is deputies’ frequent use of their firearms over any other defense tools, such as tasers,” said Arevalo, who is also a student in Price’s Certificate of Public Policy program.

Arevelo also had the opportunity to share her research, on behalf of the ACLU, at LASD Civilian Oversight Committee meetings. She advocated for better services for individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues, as well as for their families.

Arevalo’s supervisor, staff attorney Adrienna Wong, said, “It was a joy to work with Marylin — in particular, to watch her develop real expertise on a specific topic over the course of several months, while effectively networking with people across California working on related issues. Marylin effectively pairs diligence and attention to detail with compassion. The fact that she truly cares about the human impact of the issues we hoped to address is something that came through clearly in her work.”

In addition to the LASD cases, Arevalo reviewed 100 LAPD reports, examining law enforcement interactions with the mentally ill, to help with advocacy efforts. She also participated in the ACLU’s Court Watch in Orange County program, and worked with attorneys as an interpreter to interview immigrant detainees in Victorville.

Being green at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control

MPP student Casey Fischl interned at the Chatsworth Regional Office of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

“My focus in the MPP is environmental policy, however very little of my previous work experience reflected my passion for and interest in environmental issues. I really wanted to intern for a government agency that focuses on issues pertaining to the environment, but I was having a hard time finding paid opportunities. And accepting an unpaid internship would not have been financially feasible for me. I was so excited to discover this opportunity, and I am really glad that I applied,” Fischl said.

As part of the Public Participation Unit, Fischl researched the demographics of the communities where the office was planning to undertake environmental cleanups of contamination. She also developed public documents.

“In class, we talk a lot about how to engage the public and what are best practices to do that, as well as just general research skills,” Fischl said. “So I definitely feel like I learned a lot from the internship, and I could totally see how it related to my previous coursework.”

Fischl also accompanied the Public Participation Specialists to meetings, including a networking group that drew professionals from other government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits working on environmental justice issues.

“I had a really good experience,” Fischl said. “Marcia and the entire Public Participation Unit put a lot of effort into ensuring I had a valuable learning experience. I left the internship feeling like I had polished and gained skills that will make me a better candidate when applying for jobs after graduation.”

Marcia Rubin, Supervisor in the Office of Public Participation, said, “Casey is very congenial, a quick study and a straightforward communicator. She produces consistent, quality work and was a strong contributor to our team. Though she was only with our unit for a few months, she did a considerable amount of project work under the guidance of our seasoned professionals. Her background knowledge of water issues in the Central Valley was beneficial to our project work, and she fit right in with the team.”

Recruiting faculty at CHLA

Master of Health Administration (MHA) student Jaclyn Cunningham served as a resident in CHLA’s Pediatrics Administration and Office of Academic Affairs, where she worked on several projects related to faculty recruitment.

Cunningham’s supervisor, Administrative Director Valerie Campana, said, “Jaclyn is absolutely amazing. She is a hard-working, creative and extremely bright young leader. She values teamwork and is always willing to spend additional time to see projects through. Jaclyn has the talent, skills, motivation and knowledge to succeed in any position. Based on my experience of having been preceptor to several resident interns, Jaclyn is of the highest caliber.”

Cunningham’s duties ran the gamut from advertising for faculty positions and enhancing the faculty evaluation review process, to crafting a newsletter.  She also helped prepare for several special events, such as the New Faculty Orientation and Junior Faculty Peer Mentoring Socials. While helping with the Promotions Celebration, she had the memorable opportunity to meet the CEO of CHLA, which was a rewarding experience during her residency.

“It was a rewarding experience,” Cunningham said. “I look back to when I was a freshman in college, and I declared my major in health administration at the University of Scranton. I always saw myself in a pediatric hospital setting, and here I am now. I can’t thank the Graduate Student Internship Fund committee enough for giving me that opportunity.”

Sparking civic engagement at Empower LA

MPA student Yujun Liu served as a research intern in Empower LA’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.

“It’s a government department, and it serves as a bridge between local people and the government,” Liu said. “I’m very interested in why the government wants to bring more people into the decision-making process, and why we want to empower people. I really want to know about that.”

As a member of the outreach team, Liu worked to raise awareness of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. She encouraged community involvement by making a presentation at the board members meeting, hosting a community gathering and informing people about how they could get involved. She also attended elections for neighborhood councils, and served as a translator at some of these events, thanks to her fluency in Mandarin and Cantonese.

“She’s very pleasant to work with,” said Director of Outreach and Communications Thomas Soong, who served as her supervisor. “If I give her an assignment… she could just go run with it. She’s a self-starter and doesn’t need a lot of instructions. So I think that’s good, because we work in a fast-paced environment, and she is able to take initiative.”

Liu is continuing her internship at Empower LA during the academic year.

“I want to work in a nonprofit and to help people in need,” Liu said. “In the future, if I go back to China, I think this empowerment and civic engagement and civic participation is very useful, and that we must have that in China. I want to be the person to develop that.”

Shaping the city in the Office of LA Councilmember José Huizar

Alexander Freedman, who is pursuing MPP and Master of Planning (MPL) degrees, served as a planning intern in the Office of José Huizar, the District 14 Councilmember for the City of Los Angeles. He worked there throughout the summer, and will continue the internship during the academic year.

GSIF was instrumental in his decision to pursue the internship. As someone with considerable work experience, he made the decision to never again take an unpaid internship. But the opportunity to work in the office of a Los Angeles councilmember was too good to pass up.

“I needed a little extra help to make it all work,” Freedman said, “so that’s where the summer funding was really useful.”

As an intern in the council office in Los Angeles City Hall, Freedman is charged with what he calls “a wide smorgasbord of different tasks.” He has the opportunity to attend and comment at meetings, hearings and site visits about planning issues ranging from alcohol permits to new construction. Some of the most fascinating meetings are the ones for the Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

“Those are the hearings where community members can show up,” Freedman said. “And so every week, you get a mixed variety of people from all walks of life. It was just a really eye-opening look at how community engagement with city processes can be both good, but also challenging and logistically complicated. That left a strong impression on me.”

As a planning student, he also enjoyed the fact that his day-to-day tasks will help transform the landscape of the City of Los Angeles for years to come.

“The idea that I’ve written the notes for a meeting for the council members that will lead to the construction of a big building downtown is incredible,” he said. “In 30 years, I’ll be able to walk downtown and know I had a hand in making a building come to life, which is really cool.”