With a Penn alumnus in the White House, student interest in public policy is perhaps at an all-time high. For students who want to pursue a different internship path than traditional on-campus recruiting opportunities, the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative is there to help.

PPI provides opportunities for students to get involved in public policy through summer internships in D.C. The initiative provides funding to students who receive an offer for unpaid internships in Washington.

Additionally, PPI brings speakers and advisors to campus and holds workshops to introduce students to the internship recruitment process.

“At this year’s workshop [with Career Services and the Penn Government and Politics Association], we actually had a higher turnout than last year,” PPI Managing Director Andrew Coopersmith said. “My sense is that students are really energized to better understand what is going on in D.C., and to have some involvement with it.”

Coopersmith believes that last year’s election, as contentious as it was, enlivened people’s interest in the country’s social and economic direction and how it might affect them.

“Students might have a different perspective on working in an Obama White House versus working in a Trump White House,” Coopersmith said, adding that Washington internship opportunities reach far beyond the White House.

According to Coopersmith, PPI supported 105 internships in D.C. last summer, ranging from positions at the White House and Treasury Department to internships at think tanks and other public policy research organizations.

D.C. internships have later application deadlines than prototypical Penn summer jobs.

“The timeline for recruitment in Washington has always been a spring semester affair, as far back as I can remember,” Coopersmith said.

Nursing junior Erin Hartman spent last summer interning at the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Hartman applied to jobs at the end of February and beginning of March, and didn’t hear back until the end of April.

“You have to apply to many jobs in D.C. just to hear back from one or two if you’re lucky,” Hartman said.

Coopersmith is aware that this later timeline can deter students from pursuing internships in public policy, as students can be anxious to nail down their plans for the summer.

“Some terrific students get snapped up by investment banks and consulting firms in the fall,” Coopersmith said.

While many Penn students seek out jobs in the fall through OCR, Coopersmith said that the students who are truly interested in public policy understand that they must wait until the spring to map out their summers.

“It can be stressful for students who see some of their peers coming back from winter break knowing what they’re doing for the summer,” Coopersmith said. “Once students understand that they’re not behind and it’s not that they’ve been remiss, but instead it’s just the timeline that D.C. works on, they feel more comfortable and ready to move forward.”

Hartman said she found her experience in D.C. extremely rewarding. Her projects included attending briefings and hearings on healthcare, analyzing legislation and predicting policy implications, as well as writing letters to cabinet members on women’s health issues.

Through PPI, she was given a stipend that covered housing at Georgetown University, food and some extra cash for exploring D.C.

Coopersmith believes there are several compelling arguments for pursuing an internship in public policy.

“Public policy affects our lives very directly,” Coopersmith said. “It affects the functioning of our economy. It can affect someone’s ability to land the job that they want, or to have the social freedoms that they aspire to, and have their rights protected.”

Coopersmith said even if a student is thinking of going into a career in business, the public policy landscape will affect that business environment.

“I think more and more, students understand that public policy is everywhere.”

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