Community and civic engagement internships provide opportunity to explore careers in service

Aug. 23, 2016 10 a.m.

This summer, more than 160 undergraduate students are spending their breaks interning at public service and nonprofit organizations in over 30 cities in the United States, Canada, Bermuda, Ireland and France as part of the Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS) program.

"PICS internships provide students an incredible opportunity for experiential learning by working on significant projects in virtually any facet of community and civic engagement across the United States and abroad," said Chuck Freyer, chairman of the PICS board and a member of Princeton's Class of 1969. “Students are matched with an alumni partner as part of the experience, providing valuable personal connections that continue long after the internship ends and exposing them to the broader Princeton alumni community and the benefits it can offer throughout their careers.”

The PICS program offers Princeton undergraduates 8- to 10-week paid, alumni-sponsored public and nonprofit summer internships in a wide range of national and international organizations in multiple fields including legal services, public policy, environment, health and social services, community development, education and the arts. It also exposes students to the rewards of service and encourages participants to continue as volunteers and board members for nonprofits after graduation, in the Princeton tradition of service to humanity.

Since it was established in 1996, more than 1,000 students have participated in the PICS program.

"PICS internships are a wonderful opportunity for students to explore positions in service and begin to discover how they can align with meaningful work now and in the future," said Pulin Sanghvi, the executive director of the Office of Career Services. "Princeton students have a strong interest in careers in public service and nonprofit. We're thrilled to continue to support the PICS program and are deeply grateful to the alumni who sponsor these invaluable experiential education opportunities in civic service."

Six students share their experiences and insights from their summer internships below.

Tyler Bozeman

Tyler Bozeman, Class of 2018, is spending the summer interning at My Friend's Place, helping to organize experiential opportunities for homeless youths in California. Photo courtesy of Tyler Bozeman

Tyler Bozeman

Class Year: 2018
Concentration: History
Organization: My Friend’s Place
Location: Hollywood, California
Alumni Partner: Paul Haaga, Class of 1970

What do you do at your internship and what has your experience been so far?
My experience with My Friend’s Place has been incredible. I'm tasked with connecting with our clients – homeless youths in the area – and organizing field trips to various sites throughout the city. We are essentially attempting to provide opportunities that our clients might otherwise not have access to. I spend most of my time on the main floor and in our various workshops, interacting with clients and leading activities. We hold two field trips per week to various locations, such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art or a beach in Malibu for surfing lessons.

Why did you choose this particular internship?
I chose this position because I wanted some experience in the nonprofit sector, and I had yet to be in a workplace in which the staff was wholeheartedly invested in the job. I also wanted an environment in which I could connect with different types of people with a huge range of experiences and perspectives that would inevitably push me to expand my own.

What are some of the takeaways or lessons from your internship?
Working at My Friend's Place has constantly pushed me to reassess my assumptions and recalibrate my thought process while interacting with people dealing with a range of circumstances. My coworkers and clients have continually reinforced the importance of looking beyond perceived behaviors and approaching various situations with a greater degree of nuance. Everyone has different ways of surviving and navigating the world, and I’m reminded to reflect upon this fact and always respond with compassion. These are attributes that I certainly want to carry on to whatever career and lifestyle I end up having in the future.

What has been the most impactful aspect of having an alumni partner as part of the PICS experience?
Having an alumni partner has been a remarkable experience. Mr. Haaga has shown a great deal of compassion for the interns, introducing us to various people and opening up incredible opportunities. His presence is especially impactful for me, given that this summer marks my first trip to California, making his advice invaluable. I think the most rewarding aspect of this partnership is the fact that he actually helps directly with some of the field trips I organize. Without his support, I literally would not be able to do as much within my internship as I now have the freedom to do.

Can you describe your favorite moment so far?
My favorite moment thus far has to be walking through the gardens of the Huntington, having a long conversation about race and perception with a client that I had just been getting to know. Coming from very different worlds and yet being able to talk about issues so personal to us has undoubtedly been my most memorable highlight to date.
 

Cheryl LaFleur and Samantha Walter

Samantha Walter (right), Class of 2017, is interning this summer at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission working directly with Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur (left), a member of Princeton's Class of 1975. Photo courtesy of Samantha Walter

Samantha Walter

Class Year: 2017
Concentration: Chemical and Biological Engineering
Organization: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
Location: Washington, D.C.
Alumni Partner: Cheryl LaFleur, Class of 1975

What do you do at the internship and what has your experience been so far?
I am attending Commissioner LaFleur’s meetings and assisting her and her advisers with various tasks such as researching energy policy issues, reviewing draft orders and helping prepare speeches and presentations. In addition to these daily tasks, I am also working on two summer research projects. The first is an investigation of carbon pricing in international markets and the second is working with the Office of Enforcement looking at dispatch data and using SAS [Statistical Analysis System] programming to analyze the tension between the gas and electric markets.

Why did you choose this particular internship?
I took this position to gain an understanding of the energy industry and experience what it is like to work in government. I was also excited to work with Commissioner LaFleur and observe how she conducts herself as a female leader in the energy industry.

What are some of the takeaways or lessons from your internship?
I have learned the importance of finding what you value in a career and finding a career that aligns with those values. From my experience, people at FERC love working here. They find the work rewarding and enjoy being experts in their field. I had a great conversation with one of Commissioner LaFleur’s legal advisers who talked about his experience in government compared to his experience in private practice. Coming from private practice, he learned that he valued having coworkers as collaborators instead of competitors; being able to work on a diverse range of projects; not being limited to what a client would pay for; and more free time to spend with his family. This honest advice helped me think about what is important to me for my career and life.

What has been the most impactful aspect of having an alumni partner as part of the PICS experience?
Having an alumni partner is a great resource as you start off having a shared commonality to bond over. I feel lucky to not only be paired with an alumni partner but to also be able to work directly with that partner. Commissioner LaFleur has been an awesome role model and has encouraged me to make the most of this experience.

Can you describe your favorite moment so far?
Commissioner LaFleur generously takes her office out for lunch after every month’s open meeting. In June, the office went to Ted’s Bulletin, which is a beloved diner local to D.C. with homemade pop tarts and a lively atmosphere. It was a lot of fun being able to talk with Commissioner LaFleur and her staff in a casual setting with good food.
 

Mikecia Clarke and Bonnie Watson-Coleman

Mikecia Clarke (left), Class of 2019, says working in the office of Congresswoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman (right) has taught her a lot about the role of politicians and how they work to help their constituents. Photo courtesy of Mikecia Clarke

Mikecia Clarke

Class Year: 2019
Organization: Office of Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman
Location: Ewing, New Jersey
Alumni Partner: Tom Byrne, Class of 1976

What do you do at the internship and what has your experience been so far?
There is no such thing as a "typical day" at the office. My base-level responsibilities include constituent communications and casework intake, but I help out with whatever is needed, from acting as a photographer at the Congresswoman's press conferences to taking notes at roundtable discussions.

Why did you choose this internship?
I was first drawn to this position because the Congresswoman represents the district that I live in. I have an interest in politics and wanted to know what it was really like.

What are some of the takeaways or lessons from your internship?
It is really interesting to learn about just how much the Congresswoman is responsible for. Between her district office (DO), where I am, and her legislative office in Washington, D.C., she handles both constituent concerns on the home-front and legal issues in the House of Representatives. The DO assists as many as 200 constituents at a time with a range of problems from veteran's affairs to Social Security to immigration by reaching out to agencies on their behalf. Some of the cases are even more serious, where people are in danger or desperately in need of help. Being in the DO has really taught me a lot about the role of government representatives. The work that I have witnessed clearly has a huge impact on many lives and makes me really think about my opinion of politicians.

What has been the most impactful aspect of having an alumni partner as part of the PICS experience?
Starting with the day that I got my internship, my alumni partner has been a great help to me in many regards. His insights have worked to both calm my nerves and remain focused on my goals. Hearing stories about his experience is both entertaining and enlightening, reminding me that I can carve my own path and still succeed, just as he did.

Can you describe your favorite moment so far?
It's my first day of work and I am organizing my new desk while answering periodic phone calls and still trying to wrap my head around the amazing opportunity I've been given. From the start, I have known how rarely the Congresswoman comes back from D.C. and gave up on the dream of talking with her. I think, "She's a first-term politician going up for re-election in the fall; even if she does visit, she'll be too busy to speak to an intern." Suddenly, the district director emerges from her office, advising me to follow her to the car. Soon I am sitting outside of the Congresswoman's residence in disbelief. She climbs into the car and greets me fondly, like we've met before. The ride over to the conference room is a dream, filled with a personal conversation with Congresswoman Coleman. When we arrive at a round-table discussion about STEM programs in New Jersey, she introduces me by name as a part of her team, and I proceed to take notes for her, paying close attention to what the other executives are saying and learning a lot about the subject in the process. I know that if I were in another Congressional Office, this encounter would be even more unlikely than it already was.

Zeena Mubarak

Zeena Mubarak, Class of 2017, said her PICS experiences have helped inform her possible career plans and given her "the chance to deeply engage with topics that are important to me." Here, she holds a book made by elementary school students, a product of a month-long English curriculum she designed with another intern. Photo courtesy of Zeena Mubarak

Zeena Mubarak

Class Year: 2017
Concentration: Near Eastern Studies
Internship: Ascend Learning
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Alumni Partner: Miriam Kuritzkes, Class of 2010

What do you do at your internship and what has your experience been so far?
I've been working with the curriculum development team, specifically with the middle school humanities department. Most days, I work on creating or editing unit guides and assessments for middle school English and social studies. That has meant everything from copy editing tests to reading novels and developing plans of study for them.

Why did you choose this particular position?
I've always been interested in making a quality education accessible to all. Last summer, I had an incredible experience at another PICS internship. I worked on the academic team for BSAFE, a summer camp for underprivileged children in Boston. In the past, I've worked with developing English and Arabic learning curricula. Combining these two interests to work on curriculum development for Ascend seemed like the natural next step.

What are some of the takeaways or lessons from your internship?
On a broad level, this internship has made me consider teaching more seriously than I have in the past. Because I'm a rising senior, career plans are becoming increasingly important to me. On a more micro level, I've learned a lot about working with Common Core standards and the benefits and challenges of that approach.

What has been the most impactful aspect of having an alumni partner as part of the PICS experience?
Miriam, my alumni partner, pushed me to create specific action steps for my career plans next year. She was also so great about discussing any of my concerns, from the tiny (how to ask for a day off) to the enormous (the impact of racial dynamics on teaching). I'm lucky to have had her support!

Can you describe your favorite moment so far?
I recently had the opportunity to build an eighth grade unit on the American Judicial System, which was an exciting project because it gave me the chance to deeply engage with topics that are important to me. I think the unit has potential to be impactful to the children, because the topics discussed have such an immediate presence in their lives.
 

Imani Williams

Imani Williams, Class of 2018, who is interested in global health, is interning at a children's hospital in France and getting an inside look at medical practice overseas. Photo courtesy of Imani Williams

Imani Williams

Class Year: 2018
Concentration: Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Certificate: Global Health and Health Policy
Internship: Hôpital d'enfants de la Timone
Location: Marseille, France
Alumni Partner: Ayn Lever, Class of 1988

What do you do at the internship and what has your experience been so far?
I work with Dr. Jean Michel Guys in the pediatric urologic surgical department. Most days begin with a staff meeting in the morning. Afterwards, there is always the opportunity to head to the surgical ward and observe an operation. One major project I have worked on is the translation of a medical article from French into English. At times, the process was challenging as I was learning medical terms in French that I did not yet know in English. However, I now have a solid grasp of bilingual medical terminology. On other days, I was able to explore the different departments within the hospital. For example, one morning I was given a tour of the biochemistry lab. Some of the students even offered to demonstrate their manual techniques. Another time, I joined a physician and his medical students on their rounds through the endocrinology unit.

Why did you choose this particular position?
As for why I selected this internship, I feel there were many motivations. The first being my interest in global health. Naturally, this internship would immerse me in the French healthcare system, which alone made for a great opportunity. In addition, I would have the opportunity to learn what it is to be a part of a surgical unit before medical school. Of course, the language immersion was an additional benefit. And for that reason, Marseille is a great city to be located in. It isn't as popular a location as Paris for internships, so I could not rely on English.

What are some of the takeaways or lessons from your internship?
One of the great benefits of this internship position is that it allowed me to engage fully in the day-to-day life and operations of a pediatric surgical department. I felt that I was truly a part of the team of surgeons, residents, nurses and secretaries. In addition, I learned a great amount about the French healthcare system that could only be done through an internship such as this.

On a personal level, one of the greatest takeaways for me has been recognizing the value of a bachelor’s degree, as opposed to heading directly to medical school as is the practice in Europe. In the future, I will be a physician equipped with excellent verbal and written communication skills, as well as research skills.
 

Brandon McGhee

Brandon McGhee, Class of 2018, says that his internship at Policy Matters Ohio is helping him explore his interests in politics and policymaking at the state and local levels. Photo courtesy of Brandon McGhee

Brandon McGhee

Class Year: 2018
Concentration: Politics
Certificate: African American studies
Internship: Policy Matters Ohio
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Alumni Partner: Christopher Malik, Class of 1997

What do you do at the internship and what has your experience been so far?
Policy Matters Ohio is a policy research organization and most of my research has fallen under a project focused on cuts to local government budgets by the state of Ohio. I serve as a research and outreach intern and have interviewed budget directors, treasurers and mayors to find out how their city was able to move forward after having cuts to their local government funding. Some of these governments lost up to 50 percent of their local government funding. Many cities were forced to cut services, raise taxes, lay off workers, prolong training and/or hiring of city employees, and privatize services in order to make up for the loss of funds. In addition to the qualitative interviews, I also did quantitative work and crunched numbers in order to identify the losses for a list of different cities ranging in sizes and regional location. I also worked with the outreach coordinator to build lists of potential community partners, attended events, took pictures and live-tweeted. This is an exciting summer to be in Cleveland and there were many panels, events and town hall meetings, which enabled me to explore a wide array of ideas and policy proposals. Lastly, I am currently working on a blog post that will be published on our website regarding poverty.

Why did you choose this particular position?
Since I had an internship in my local government last year, I instantly was intrigued to work on a project about local government funding to learn how state cuts have affected municipalities across the state. I am interested in politics and policymaking and realize that local and state government have a significant impact on residents. Therefore, I believed it to be critical to work on this project to better my understanding of the relationship between local and state governments.

What are some of the takeaways or lessons from your internship?
I have learned so much during this internship. It has made me feel more comfortable moving forward as a politics major. People always hear the term "think tank," but most do not know what they do until they have an encounter with one. The day-to-day operations of a nonprofit organization, and specifically this one, are so impressive. Every single member of the team is valued and brings assets to the table that support the organization to thrive and succeed in its work. Identifying your strengths and utilizing them to be an asset of a team is something that I have realized is so important. Whenever I am working on a project, we are able to bounce ideas off of each other and ask questions. Every person's opinion is respected and valued. The office culture at Policy Matters Ohio is impeccable.

What has been the most impactful aspect of having an alumni partner as part of the PICS experience?
It was definitely a positive experience having a PICS alumni partner. Although I reside in Cleveland, I definitely see the benefits of having an alumni partner from the surrounding area of your organization that can make sure you are comfortable not only in your internship, but really having a great experience in that region. Furthermore, it is wonderful to create bonds with alumni because they always have wisdom to share and can help provide their own viewpoints, which could potentially cultivate your own. My PICS alumni partner was insistent in keeping in contact via email or meeting in person to ensure that I was having a positive experience.

Can you describe your favorite moment so far?
There have been many amazing moments and opportunities this summer, so it is difficult to choose one. We had an amazing cohort of interns and we began bonding on the first day. Ranging from attending a Hillary Clinton rally and meeting her, attending panels during the Republican National Convention, having intern outings, celebrating the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA championship, and just engaging in intellectual conversations in the office, I have had a lot of fun working with the other interns and staff.