Op-Ed: Not Just Another Summer Internship

Feb. 4, 2013, 1:40 a.m.

The symptoms of summer-internship-search season are everywhere: students walking around in business clothes, computer clusters printing dozens of resumes and inboxes receiving an alarming surge in emails.

Depending on how many of those ever-increasing emails you’ve read, you may have heard about Stanford in Government (SIG) fellowships and stipends. Through these fellowships, you are funded to work at one of thirty-six different public policy organizations in California, Washington, D.C., and across five continents, in areas including democratic development, finance, education, history, the environment and human rights.

In contrast, stipends fund students who have found their own unpaid policy internships and are just getting started in policy – especially underclassmen and those in non-policy majors. With both programs, you get paid to undertake meaningful work – writing memos, briefing officials, creating proposals, researching for publications and more.

It’s true that Stanford students have a wealth of attractive opportunities available to them. Consulting in the market can be lucrative, for example – but what about designing an efficient structure for the market with the Reserve Bank of India? Coding for a start-up can be a rush, but so can working on a stipend to help public agencies incorporate technological innovations.

Investigating in a lab can bring new techniques for safeguarding the environment, but what about making sure these discoveries get put to use with the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research Fellowship? Volunteering on the ground in a developing country can be formative, but what about increasing government transparency and accountability through Global Integrity?

Public policy is about solving the largest, hardest and most interdisciplinary problems – those that must be tackled at the macro-level and are not or cannot be addressed by the private sector. It’s about navigating the most difficult conflicts, whether they be economic growth and environmental sustainability, social spending and fiscal restraint, or privacy and security.

And SIG’s fellowships and stipends are a crucial and distinctive piece of the efforts at Stanford to draw students towards public service. Summer opportunities abound for researching a specific subject on campus, working in industry or doing fieldwork off campus; however, few options allow students to take their major and work with it through the lens of real-world policy. Further, as student-orchestrated summer programs, fellowships and stipends uniquely foster a sense of community around the summer work experience, with students supporting each other in securing fellowship placements.

Last summer, I worked as a SIG fellow for the education reform organization StudentsFirst in Sacramento, California, where I learned more about education that I ever could have in a quarter’s worth of classes. Coming back to The Farm, I had a renewed sense of what courses I should take to fit my goals, and I rethought my role in education reform and tutoring student groups on campus in light of what I discovered over the summer about organizations and policy.

My experience is not an extraordinary example; returning fellows serve as ambassadors for applied policy on campus through mentoring the next crop of fellowship applicants, bringing fresh insights to classes and research, initiating new dialogues on campus, changing approaches to student group leadership and much more.

I remember a Stanford professor at New Student Orientation three years ago saying, “You can’t ‘get’ a good education. You have to take it.” Summer internships are a prime chance to do just that. If SIG’s summer fellowships interest you, the application deadline is this Thursday, February 7th right before midnight (you can find more information at sig.stanford.edu), but I urge you to do even more searching into how your field of study affects important policy and how you can impact it over the summer.

If none of this has convinced you, I’ll let Pericles do the talking: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” Substitute “policy” for “politics,” and this is even more spot-on: policy affects us all in profound ways, and we need more bright and idealistic minds working on it. I hope you’ll be one of those minds this summer.

Kyle Vandenberg
Vice-Chair of Fellowships, Stanford in Government
[email protected]

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