June 26, 2019

Finding Your Best Fit

KU students Aleska Gonzalez and Eric Schulden gain hands-on experience in their dream jobs through The Harrisburg Internship Semester.

Map showing route from Kutztown to Harrisburg

If you asked Aleska Gonzalez and Eric Schulden what they thought they’d be doing as seniors four years ago, they probably wouldn’t have guessed that they’d be experiencing real government fieldwork. Gonzalez, a senior public administration major with minors in paralegal studies and political science, and Schulden, a senior political science and paralegal studies major with a minor in international relations, were selected as two of the 12 students to participate in The Harrisburg Internship Semester (THIS) program this year.

The THIS program is a 15 credit hour internship semester that is spent exclusively in Harrisburg and can be used toward any major. Students who meet program requirements are selected work a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 40-hour work week in a government agency and attend a seminar class once a week. Each seminar features a guest speaker from a different branch of government and students are additionally required to complete a 30-page independent research paper pertaining to their internship.

Once students are selected, they are asked to rank a list of the offices offering internships according to their interest, after which they are matched to the office that best suits them. More than 600 students from the State System universities have participated in the THIS program since its establishment in 1989. Past interns have worked with multiple state agencies and in the offices of the governor, the speaker of the House of Representatives and the attorney general.

Aleska Gonzalez and Eric Schulden

Schulden was matched with one of his top choices: the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). He worked between the Governor’s Policy Office and the Legislative Affairs Office, makes bill analyses, writes press releases, attends senate meetings and takes notes for full-time staff who cannot attend. He has even assisted in writing amendments to bills for use in the State Assembly. One experience that particularly resonated with him was his department’s collaboration with the Legislative Affairs Office.

“I was fortunate to be able to work with them. They handle constituent affairs for both legislators and inquiries about problems from individual citizens. Since only two people work in that office, I was able to handle the full brunt of office affairs,” Schulden said. “In the last week, I made several phone calls to take care of constituent problems; in particular, I handled six sewage issues alone and helped many constituents to solve their problems. It was very gratifying.”

Schulden explained that his internship in the DEP has endless benefits, as the practical experience in a job he knows he wants to pursue in the future, is crucial to career development. Even the simple skills he learned, like learning the directory for state agencies or who to call when he has a concern, are essential to his future success. Though he admitted that it took him a bit to understand the office, let alone the other individual program offices, Schulden notes that he now has a more in-depth understanding of and experience with how to coordinate and assist not only in the local departments, but also between state departments, giving him an advantage once he graduates and begins the job application process.

Gonzalez was also matched with her top choice, though she was able to interview with her top two choices. She currently interns in the Office of Public Engagement in the Office of the Attorney General and works on public outreach and education programs. Department presenters and coordinators send ongoing initiatives, such as the opioid crisis and bullying roundtables, to Aleska so that she can research them and summarize any new information for presentations. She also answers the public engagement phone line, as well as collaborates with other departments depending on the initiatives.

“My favorite thing about working in outreach is that it’s so hands-on. I do a lot of research for ongoing initiatives that is interesting and exciting. In fact, my research paper for this semester is about the ongoing initiative for trauma-informed care and its role in Pennsylvania’s criminal justice reform,” Gonzalez said. “There are so many cool things that I get to experience being here, like Board of Pardons hearings, that I wouldn’t get to do otherwise.”

For Gonzalez, the internship program solidified her desire to work in public service. Gonzalez says that in the future she would like to stay in government in the Allentown area and become a paralegal in one of the Attorney General offices, work in a county district attorney’s office or work in a public defender’s office. She prefers the behind-the-scenes aspect of helping and explained that her internship helped her realize that real change begins to happen in the office where people, like her, cover the groundwork. Her current experience giving her the confidence to want to keep laying the foundation for important state initiatives.

Both Schulden and Gonzalez attributed KU’s Political Science Department professors and courses to their success, noting that the state and local government courses in particular were helpful and allowed them to develop the analytical skills necessary to figure out how practical strategies can be implemented in their respective offices.

“I got more out of my classes and this internship than I ever could’ve imagined. It’s great to be able to apply what you learn in class to actually help people firsthand,” Schulden said.

On a similar note, Gonzalez praised the department staff and Dr. Paula Holoviak for their continued advice and guidance.

“Everyone was supportive and took the time to help me determine that this was the best major and the best internship path for me. I’m so grateful,” Gonzalez said.

When asked what advice they would give future political science majors or students interested in the THIS program, Schulden and Gonzalez explained that hard work and dedication were the keys to success.

“Approach everything with a ‘you get out of it what you put into it’ attitude and take the initiative. Do as much as you can and keep developing your skills, especially your soft skills, because they’re what will help keep you level-headed and critical when you need to be,” Schulden said.

“Don’t be afraid of saying yes and going for it. I was initially scared to pursue THIS because I had to move to a new city and do four interviews in one day with these huge offices, but I said yes anyway. It was well worth it because it opened a door for me that I don’t think I would’ve been able to open myself without a lot of difficulty. You have no idea how things will turn out and how they can help you, so don’t let your nerves or fear get in the way,” Gonzalez said.

Moving forward, Gonzalez and Schulden hope to see more KU students apply for the THIS program and be given the same life-changing opportunities to live out their dreams and find what’s best fit for them.

For more information about the THIS program, please visit the website or contact the KU program coordinator Dr. Paula Holoviak at holoviak@kutztown.edu.

By Smanatha Koller M'20, Communications Graduate Assistant

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