Baker Institute summer interns sharpen research skills, explore careers in DC

For two months this summer in the nation’s capital, Baker College senior Anjali Bhatla is working toward her goal of becoming a “physician policymaker.” Her internship with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Global Health Center in Washington, D.C., was made possible by the Baker Institute’s Jesse Jones Leadership Center Summer in D.C. Policy Research Internship Program.

The Baker Institute's summer interns in Washington, D.C., are pictured in front of the National Archives. They are, back row, from left: Evan Flack, Jackson Neagli, David Ratnoff, Albert Nabiullin and Alex Morton; and, front row, from left: Tay Jacobe, Aaron Huang, Anjali Bhatla, Yasna Haghdoost and Griffin Thomas. Photo by Steven Lewis

The Baker Institute’s summer interns in Washington, D.C., are pictured in front of the National Archives. They are, back row, from left: Evan Flack, Jackson Neagli, David Ratnoff, Albert Nabiullin and Alex Morton; and, front row, from left: Tay Jacobe, Aaron Huang, Anjali Bhatla, Yasna Haghdoost and Griffin Thomas. Photo by Steven Lewis

Now in its 13th year, the program offers Rice undergraduates hands-on experience in public-policy research and analysis. The interns integrate classroom theory with its evaluation and application in real life. In a city where unpaid internships are common, the program provides stipends that cover the interns’ summer living expenses in Washington.

“I am analyzing the role of international institutions in global infectious disease policy, including tuberculosis, malaria and anti-microbial resistance,” said Bhatla, a kinesiology and policy studies major who was named a 2016 Truman Scholar in April. “My research also studies the interface between health and security and the development of government partnerships in combating disease. I also prepare briefing materials for global health delegations, assist in events with policy leaders and participate in the Abdishire-Inamori Leadership Academy, which provides training opportunities in leadership, ethics and foreign policy.”

Bhatla is one of 10 participants in this year’s program, which is led by Steven Lewis, the C.V. Starr Transnational China Fellow at the Baker Institute, a professor in the practice and associate director of Rice’s Chao Center for Asian Studies. Since 2004, 118 students have represented the Baker Institute and Rice at a wide variety of government agencies, public-policy think tanks and nongovernmental organizations in Washington.

“We’re pretty clear that we’re looking for people who are interested in public service, (are) very smart … and then we just make sure that we get students from every school, if we can,” Lewis said of the students selected to participate. “That also leads into all the different policy areas. So we make sure people do domestic policy, people do foreign policy, and it’s a very diverse group.”

Lewis’ Baker Institute colleagues Allen Matusow, director for academic affairs at the institute and the William Gaines Twyman Professor of History at Rice, and Joe Barnes, the Bonner Means Baker Fellow, help with recruiting and selecting students.

Those admitted into the program are responsible for securing an internship. “I meet with them right away and go over their cover letter, CV and give them some advice on places to apply,” Lewis said. “Usually, the rest of February I coach them on how to apply to places. It works because we’ve had such a good reputation in some places. This year, we’ve got several at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and that’s building upon what some previous interns did. For a long time, we had students at both the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute, both the left and the right. They’re all building on what previous interns had done.”

Aaron Huang, a Baker College junior majoring in economics and policy studies, is participating in the United States Foreign Service Internship Program, the State Department’s two-summer paid internship opportunity, with the first summer spent in D.C., including three weeks of foreign service training in the beginning, and the second at an embassy abroad.

“The USFSIP cohort is extremely diverse,” Huang said. “We have a person who speaks mountain pigeon, a 40-year-old veteran who was deployed in Afghanistan and someone who has worked in the CIA. I’m learning so much from their varying and wide-ranging experiences.”

Huang is currently with the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs as part of the internship’s first summer. “I chose this program because I hope to join the foreign service in the future, and this will give me great insight into life in foreign service,” he said.

Across town, David Ratnoff, a Martel College junior majoring in history, is interning with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, which is the federal lobbying arm of the organization. “The WLO, often in partnership with other civil rights organizations, works with Congress to ensure legislation maximizes civil liberties,” Ratnoff said. “I was attracted to the ACLU because I was concerned about protecting voting rights and combatting discrimination. I work directly under Karin Johanson, the ACLU’s national political director. I conduct research on the civil liberties implications of pieces of legislation, help compile issue briefs and assist in hosting congressional briefings.”

An introduction to political theory and philosophy – and a career

The program also offers a unique education component focused on globalization and policymaking. The interns are required to attend three two-day-long seminars and read 15 classic and contemporary political philosophy and public-policy books for background information and discussion. This year’s cohort has read books by economists, philosophers and political scientists like Friedrich Hayek, Joseph Schumpeter, John Dewey, Karl Polanyi and Martha Nussbaum.

“It’s a whole day sitting in a basement of a tea house called Teaism in the Penn Quarter area, right next to the National Archives and the FBI headquarters, without Wi-Fi and bad cellphone service,” Lewis said. “For six or seven hours, we’ll sit there and talk about their internships, each one of these books and about how these theories of public policy are still relevant today.”

Founded in 1993, Rice’s Baker Institute ranks among the top five university-affiliated think tanks in the world.

Founded in 1993, Rice’s Baker Institute ranks among the top five university-affiliated think tanks in the world.

At the end of summer, the interns will return to campus to present their research projects Aug. 27 to an audience of Baker Institute fellows and Rice faculty members.

“The Baker Institute’s student programs, particularly the Jesse Jones Leadership Center, are a central element of the institute’s mission — educating and nurturing the next generation of decision-makers, public servants and thought leaders that will shape our nation,” said Baker Institute Director Edward Djerejian. “These programs have a unique track record of helping students gain valuable experiences they can build on throughout their lives. The Baker Institute is proud of the role it plays on the Rice campus to help students move beyond high performance in the classroom to personal and professional growth in all areas of their lives.”

Many of the interns’ summer projects form the basis of applications for prestigious national honors, such as the Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright and Truman scholarships and the Watson Fellowship, which have been awarded to many program alumni.

More importantly, the internships help students determine what further steps they need to take to contribute to the policy fields or careers in which they’re interested. “A lot of the students end up finding out what they don’t want to do in addition to finding out what they do want to do,” Lewis said.

Program alumni have gone on to law school, with many clerking with federal appellate judges, one becoming deputy solicitor general of Oklahoma and three alumni have already become full foreign service officers at the State Department, Lewis said. Other recent alumni of the program are working in D.C. at the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the Asian Pacific American Caucus of the Congress, the World Resources Institute, Brookings Institution, the Urban Institute and Third Way.

For more information about the program, which is sponsored by a grant from the Houston Endowment, and application details, go to

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.