Paying It Forward
This entry is part of the Intern Chronicles Series, written by students interning at federal agencies who are interested in sharing their experiences with others. Alex, from North Hollywood, California, interned at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the Office of Human Services Policy. He explains how he applied for the position, what his work entailed, and how the experience shaped his future goals.
Paying It Forward
Hello, I’m from North Hollywood, CA, and I’m interning at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) in the Office of Human Services Policy. I will begin my senior year this fall at Bucknell University and I am double majoring in Political Science and Sociology.
To begin my search for summer employment, I visited the Bucknell Career Development Center’s website and started looking for public policy internships with the government and non-profit organizations. I have always been interested in working on policy issues and helping make a difference in my community. I have worked with immigrant rights before, and in the superior court of Los Angeles, so I wanted to continue doing something that would help people and affect current policy, while also working in DC. HHS was the perfect combination of what I was looking for. I was interested in the type of welfare programs and the different research ASPE did related to social services. I felt that this was an opportunity to learn more about government policy and find a clearer path for what I want to do after graduation. After submitting my application, I received an email for a phone interview and began researching the department more and having mock interviews with friends. After doing those things, I felt more prepared and less nervous about the interview and was thrilled to learn that I was hired days after.
Although my internship is unpaid, I applied for funding through my university and was fortunate to get a stipend that covered my rent in DC for the summer (living in DC is expensive!). Using my resources, I was able to find an internship and funding to cover the costs. I had to do more work, but it was possible, and I feel fortunate that it all worked out.
Growing up, I saw a lot of disparities in my neighborhood and all over Los Angeles. I noticed from an early age the impact that government programs had on people and their daily lives. I saw how effective they were and how it helped those who really needed it. I’m excited to see all the “behind the scenes” work the government does to make these government programs and affect people’s lives the same way it affected mine when I was a child.
Work and Play
This is my fourth week into my internship, and it has been fun and extremely educational. I have learned so much about what our government is doing to provide services and the amount of extensive research that goes into providing those services.
My favorite assignment, and also one of my most challenging so far, is translating into Spanish a 36 page toolkit designed to provide guidance to incarcerated parents that have children in the welfare system. When parents get arrested and are sent to jail, their kids are placed in a welfare system which can include: foster care, kinship care, and even adoption. The toolkit outlines the different possible outcomes that can arise from having children in the system and gives valuable information on coordinating with the social worker assigned to the case. Translating this toolkit into Spanish has been challenging but it is going to benefit the Spanish-speaking incarcerated parent population and will hopefully provide comfort and guidance on what to do next. I grew up speaking Spanish as my native language and then learned English in elementary school. English soon became my dominant language, but I consider myself to be fluent in Spanish. The challenging part in translating is that some words in English don’t exist or have the same meaning in Spanish, so I have to use a different word to describe it, but that word can completely change the meaning of a sentence. There are also cases when I have never said a particular term or phrase in Spanish and I’m left thinking about it and end up calling my mom for help (gracias Mami!). But I really enjoy doing this translation because this is going to help so many people when it is finished and I’m polishing up my Spanish skills.
Outside of my time in the office, I’ve gotten the opportunity to visit all the monuments and most museums along the National Mall. During the summer, they show movies along the Mall and it’s great if you are with a group of friends. I also got a chance to visit the Capitol building and meet my Congressman. My super cool supervisor even set up a tour of the White House! This is my second time in DC, so I really wanted to take advantage of all the sightseeing opportunities and all the free stuff! One of the things I like about DC is the balance of work and maintaining social lives. During the morning commute, you will see everybody in the metro dressed in business casual going to work and at night you will see the same people ready to go for happy hour. It’s a good mix of work and play.
I have used metro services in big cities around the country before, but I’ve never seen anything like DC’s metro. In most cities, you usually pay a flat rate upfront to use the metro and that’s it. In DC, you pay by the distance you’ve traveled, so if you wanted to get off at the next stop it would be less expensive than going from one end of DC to the other. This can either save you money or burn a hole in your wallet depending on how far you have to commute. If you get an internship in DC, keep this in mind when you are looking for housing!
My internship is almost over now and I have learned a lot about the government and working for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Prior to my internship, I did not have a structured plan of what I was going to do after graduation. I knew I wanted to work on public policy, but I did not know what organizations or companies (other than the government) worked on policy. One of the things I have learned about the government is that they hire contractors to do research on a certain policy or to analyze a set of programs. As I read the briefs and articles that the Office of Human Services Policy (HSP) worked on, I learned about different contractors and familiarized myself with the types of social policy research that those contractors did. After learning more about these contractors, I compiled a list of those I was most interested in and plan to apply to these companies after graduation.
Interning in HSP, I was exposed to a lot of topics in public policy. I did not have a specific policy that I was really interested in before the internship because I thought I was interested in all of them. As my weeks went by, I realized that I got really excited whenever there was a task on a justice-involved program that I could be a part of. I found myself focusing more on those types of issues and paid more attention to them outside of the office. I would like to attend all the briefings, events, and other noteworthy things that occur in DC every day and be informed about pressing issues in the country, but that is just not going to happen. It became evident that it is necessary to have an issue or policy that I really care about and focus on. This has made me set new goals for my professional work. I would not have known this if it was not for interning at HHS. Sometimes, you don’t really know what you want to do until you are doing it and this internship gave me the perfect experience to shape my future endeavors. It gave me a clearer idea of what I want to do in the future and it gave me a basic framework of how to get there. Now, I feel more prepared about stepping into the real world after college and working on issues that I am passionate about.