Rice Owls flock to DC

Rice University Owls have been known to spread their wings and fly to destinations all around the world, so it should come as no surprise that many have chosen to spend their months away from campus in the nation’s capital.

Thanks to the support of several members of the Rice Board of Trustees and collaboration among the Baker Institute for Public Policy, the Center for Civic Leadership and Rice’s Office of Public Affairs, summer internship opportunities in Washington, D.C., have expanded dramatically in recent years.

Rice currently offers three options for students seeking D.C. internships. The first is the Baker Institute’s Jesse Jones Leadership Center Summer in D.C. Policy Research Internship Program, which accepts 10 to 12 students each year. Steven Lewis, the Baker Institute’s C.V. Starr Transnational China Fellow, coordinates the program. The second is through Leadership Rice’s Summer Mentorship Experience (SME), part of the Center for Civic Leadership, which accepts approximately 10 students. Judy Le, director of Leadership Rice, coordinates the program. The third is through Rice’s Gateway Program, part of the School of Social Sciences. Ipek Martinez, associate dean of Social Sciences, directs the program. All programs offer the opportunity for students to conduct policymaking research at government agencies, private think tanks and nongovernmental organizations in Washington.

“One of the things we’ve been working on for several years is raising the profile of Rice in Washington, D.C.,” said Bob Clarke, a Rice trustee emeritus. “We think it’s very important for Rice to play a role in our nation’s capital, both to bringing Rice expertise to bear on national policymaking and involving our students, faculty and staff in the business of federal government. These D.C. internships give our students firsthand experience in that and more, and they meet national leaders who can serve as mentors as (the students) complete their educations and launch their careers.”

Clarke works with Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane and Government Relations Director Cory Kennedy to involve trustees in their government relations programs. For the past two years, Clarke has reached out to Rice board members to win support for the internships. Thanks to the response, an additional 11 interns have participated in the SME program over the past two years.

“The trustees have really understood the value of supporting this program,” Clarke said. “It’s been a tremendous experience for the students, and it’s been wonderful to hear about how much they have learned from the experience. It has helped these students be better citizens by learning firsthand how the government works and, in many cases, participating directly in the process.”

Students compete to be part of the internship programs, which provide a stipend for living expenses for a nine-week period. The internships also have academic components. Baker Institute interns are required to attend a seminar on public policy and global affairs during their internships, write a research report, give a presentation to Rice faculty and organize a public education activity. Leadership Rice interns are required to attend a three-day intensive class on leadership and complete readings and written assignments during the summer designed to enhance their understanding of the personal and professional demands facing leaders today.

The internship efforts also include placing interns with the city of Houston and Harris County, with plans to find additional opportunities in the Texas capitol in Austin. Plans include raising additional financial support to create internships for more students each year.

Le said that their programs have a long history of placing interns in D.C., but since she has worked with Kennedy, more opportunities have been found with congressional staffs and agencies such as the White House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. She believes one of the program’s most valuable aspects is the mentoring component, where her team pairs students with executive-level mentors at the respective organizations.

“Through access to these mentors, students gain a better understanding of what it takes to lead in these organizations,” Le said.

Charley Landgraf, a 1975 Rice alumnus and partner at Arnold and Porter LLP in Washington, has also helped with the D.C. placements.

“Our goal is to place as many students as we can,” Landgraf said. “We look for opportunities with congressional offices and government agencies, which give the students an opportunity to really learn the ins and outs of the organization they’re representing.”

Landgraf said that Rice students have developed quite a reputation around the capital.

“Over and over again, we receive feedback from the congressional offices, government agencies and think tanks remarking how impressed they are with Rice students,” Landgraf said. “These students are not performing menial tasks; they’re given substantive assignments and have proved time and time again that they can perform. Of course, it’s great to hear this, because it means they’ve developed a favorable impression of Rice and will be willing to continue accepting our students as interns.”

Landgraf also hosts networking opportunities for Rice interns while they are in D.C. and connects them with Rice alumni and others who can serve as mentors.

Danny Cohen, a senior political science and economics major, spent two summers interning in Washington. During his first summer internship in 2012 (through the Baker Institute), he worked at the Brookings Institution and participated in the Climate and Clean Energy Project, where he served as a research assistant and wrote reviews on carbon taxes, clean energy standards and alternative energy investments.

“It was an amazing experience,” Cohen said. “It really gave me a firsthand look at the energy industry and the inner workings of an influential think tank in D.C.”

During his second summer internship (through Leadership Rice), Cohen worked at the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) Office of Housing and Regulatory Policy Research. He served as an assistant to Jim Gray, manager of the Office of Housing and Regulatory Policy’s Counterparty and Portfolio Team. He spent his internship researching information on mortgage insurance underwriting guidelines, writing memos on the financial state of mortgage insurers in the U.S., creating presentations for state insurance departments, drafting policy recommendations to reform lender-placed insurance and attending meetings about FHFA relations with Congress.

“At the FHFA, I saw the nexus of business, finance and public policy as I worked with some amazing public servants to help create a more sustainable, more fair and more affordable housing market,” he said. Cohen said he hopes other students will pursue Rice’s internship opportunities in D.C.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to get a real look into how government works and have a hands-on experience in how public policy is created,” Cohen said. “Best of all, students can contribute intellectually to public policy and network with veterans in the public sector.”

For more information on internship opportunities in Washington D.C., visit http://bit.ly/18xcy3Z (Leadership Rice), http://bit.ly/18xcYHx (Baker Institute) or http://socialsciencesgateway.rice.edu (Gateway Program).

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.