John T. Shaw

John T. Shaw

On a late Friday afternoon in early March, my final appointment for the week was a conversation with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute’s interns, most of whom are working at the Capitol in Springfield. I was looking forward to the conversation but was tired from the long week, so I spent a few minutes gathering my energy for the meeting.

It quickly became clear this was unnecessary. The curiosity, passion, idealism, intelligence, and hopefulness of our interns gave me a jolt of energy that propelled me through the afternoon, and it remains. In an hourlong conversation, they discussed working in the Capitol as COVID-19 lingers, the ebbs and flows of the General Assembly’s schedule, and the opportunity to meet state representatives, senators, and constitutional officers. One student described meeting Gov. and Mrs. Pritzker at this year’s State of the State Address.

The conversation reminded me how important internships are for students, universities and employers.

Research shows that internships during college provide critical opportunities for students to channel academic learning into workplace skills. Internships also spur personal growth, boost confidence, and help students build professional and social networks and assess career options. For employers, interns bring energy, inquisitiveness, creativity and fun to the workplace. Everybody wins.

“Internships and other forms of work-based learning are one of the most influential ideas shaping research, policymaking, and educational practice in higher education in the early 21st century,” concludes a national study of college internships conducted last year by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

When Paul Simon created the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University 25 years ago, he envisioned student opportunities, including internships, as central to its mission. Over the years, the institute created several internship programs in Springfield and one for a government agency in southern Illinois. We also have a social work internship.

The institute’s interns have had enriching experiences that helped launch impressive careers in state government, politics, business, academics, media and lobbying.

Please allow me to let the institute’s interns say a few words.

Mallory Harrity, from Fox Lake, majoring in criminology and criminal justice: “I took this internship to be able to have experience in government and learn about the inner workings of the State Capitol. … I hope this internship will help my career by continuing to introduce me to successful people in legislation who share my passion for criminal justice reform.”

Crystal Kendzior, from LaGrange, majoring in economics: “I have always wanted to help fix the social ills in our country. I took this internship to narrow my passions and figure out where to apply my skill set to create change. Becoming a Gene Callahan Intern in the Speaker’s Office has provided me with a launchpad for the rest of my career. … I gained valuable lessons on the fundamentals of state government, how to perform in professional social interactions, and the importance of being confident and willing to learn.”

Ajara Yakoubou, from Plainfield, majoring in political science: “I took this internship so I can learn firsthand how state government operates. This internship has taught me how to build professional relationships with others and that people are willing to help me strengthen my future in politics by showing me different things I can do in it.”

Valeria Beltran, from Mundelein, majoring in social work: “With this internship, I have the chance to learn about how committees in the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives operate and how bills make their way through government. This internship has showed me a different side of social work and I know it will help prepare me for the future in watching out for bills that will affect my clients so I can advocate for their needs.”

Chelsey Varela, from Centralia, majoring in criminology and criminal justice: “Throughout these past months, I have learned the benefits of social interactions, introducing myself to new faces, and stepping beyond my comfort zone. As someone with an interest in policy and a dedication to pursuing law, I hope this internship will assist me in propelling forward to spark change within the criminal justice system both on the state and federal level.”

John T. Shaw is the director of the Paul Simon

Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois

Carbondale. Shaw’s monthly column explores

how Illinois can work toward better politics

and smarter government.

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