Pathways to public service

Feb. 15, 2012, 3:02 a.m.
Pathways to public service
(Courtesy of Miriam Marks)

Haas and SIG fellowships grants students opportunities in public service fields


With investment banking interviews, start-up recruitment and the chaos of summer job applications, winter quarter is a time when many students contemplate the direction of their career path. For some of these students, the private sector seems the logical next step for post-Stanford pursuits, but for others, the public sector has its own appeal. For these students, the Haas Center and Stanford in Government (SIG) team up together each year to offer a competitive summer internships program.


“I gained an international perspective while working on things that I cared about,” said Rhodes Scholar Ishan Nath ’12, a former member of The Daily Editorial Board. “Because of the people I met and the opportunities that were opened [for me], my SIG Fellowship was one of the most important things that happened to me during my time at Stanford.”


After his sophomore year, Nath participated in an internship at the Carter Center in Atlanta as part of the SIG and Haas Center Summer Fellowships Program. Nath, an economics and earth systems major, worked for Jay Hakes, director of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling . After his summer work, Nath continued to pursue his interest in the subject through a six-month research project he completed while serving as a senior consultant on the commission.


“Stanford has a tremendous tradition dating back to Leland Stanford of preparing future leaders in the world,” said Megan Fogarty, director of fellowships and postgraduate service work at the Haas Center. “The founding platform of the University is about making a difference in the world. Most students come to Stanford with commitment to the public good.”


According to the program website, SIG and the Haas Center seek to “provide students with support to develop and implement innovative, collaborative service projects that address community needs.”


In the past six years, the program has worked especially hard to expand opportunities for students to become involved in the public sector.


Students can work in Washington, D.C., for government organizations, ranging from the Health Resources and Services Administration to the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee . For those who want to remain on the West Coast, the program provides internships at the California Department of Finance and at the Environmental Defense Fund in San Francisco.


Another key element of the fellowships program is the international fellowships component. Students who are selected for these fellowships spend their summers abroad in countries such as Peru, Taiwan, Ghana and Hungary, working on issues ranging from human and civil rights to environmental conservation. Fellowships at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa , the Reserve Bank of India and the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar are a few of the offered positions.


“I wanted to do something that would immerse me in the think tank world and allow me to deepen my interest in the Middle East. This internship was the perfect combination of that,” said Miriam Marks ’11, a coterm student in public policy and Daily columnist who participated in the Brookings Doha Center SIG fellowship this past summer.


Marks said that it was especially exciting to work in the Middle East in the midst of the Arab Spring.


In addition to pre-arranged positions, the program offers funding for students to design their own project proposals. This option gives students who find a job that interests them in the public sector the opportunity to apply for a fellowship stipend to reduce financial strain. Past recipients of this fellowship have worked on Capitol Hill for senators and congressmen and at policy think tanks in California.


 The stipend program is a pilot initiative, recently founded in honor of the 50th anniversary of SIG. A survey distributed last year indicated a high demand for funding that would allow students to take on other internships in the public sector, precipitating the program.


“Forty percent of people [in a student survey] said their plans would have changed had they had funding to support an unpaid internship in public policy,” said Lina Marie Hidalgo  ’13, SIG director of expansion planning.


This year, SIG will disburse 10 stipends following two different application deadlines in February and April. The stipends range from $4,000 to $6,000 and are based on the internship location and the student’s financial aid status.


SIG hopes to expand the program in upcoming years.


“Next year we hope to have 15 [stipends], and we hope to have secured an endowment to fund 40 internships by 2014,” Hidalgo said.


She emphasized that students from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.


“In terms of selection, we give preference to students who demonstrate need, are non-majors in the field and…younger students [whom] we hope will continue to pursue public policy,” she said.


According to Fogarty, as a result of the support offered by the Haas Center and SIG in encouraging students to pursue professions in public service, there has been a drastic increase in postgraduate involvement and interest in the public sector.


Of the Class of 2012, about 260 students have actively been to the Haas Center to explore a public service job, an increase from about 150 this time last year, Fogarty said.


The Haas Center actively networks with alumni and the Career Development Center to make opportunities for jobs and internships widely available.


While the fellowships promote professional engagement in the public sector, Nath emphasized that the private sector work can be considered public service.


“Public service is not just NGOs and politics, it is also anything you love that may contribute to society in a way, such as working for a tech company and doing great things for society,” Nath said.


Besides summer fellowships, Haas offers a variety of outlets for students to become involved in public service throughout the year.


“Any student that wants to do service during the year or after graduation should visit Haas,” Fogarty said “There is a wealth of support, and I urge folks to take advantage of it.”

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