A Semester in the Capital Produces a Lifetime of Opportunities
By: Nick Santangelo
As with most things in life, what you get out of your Temple University education is partly based on what you put into it. And if what you want to get out is not only to be prepared for the career you want but also have the experience necessary to make it the career you deserve, then landing a great internship is one of the best ways to make it happen.
For many students with majors as diverse as political science, economics, criminal justice, social work and even journalism, the College of Liberal Arts’ Pennsylvania Capital Semester program has offered a great opportunity to launch a career. You probably don’t want to end up in a dull internship that only offers a few hours of work per week, with that “work” only tangentially relating to your career and education paths. Thankfully, the Capital Semester is nothing like that. At all.
Instead, you’ll be placed in a role that lets you intern four or five days a week for a semester while only taking classes two nights a week and still earning a full 15 credits for the semester. As the name implies, the program takes place in Pennsylvania’s capital (Harrisburg) where Temple has a campus and where there are internship opportunities at government branches and agencies, private businesses, lobbying firms, public affairs agencies and media organizations. If you want to see how government works from the inside and play an active role in it in nearly any capacity while still working on your degree, this is the program for you.
I definitely found out that I’m capable
Senior Taylor Allen, who’s double majoring in political science and journalism, always wanted to be a government reporter and took a professor’s advice to use the Capital Semester to stop waiting and make it happen.
“I went there and I definitely found out that I’m capable,” says Allen. “Like, I can do it, I can be a full-time reporter and meet deadlines and stuff like that.”
And while she’s leaving her post-graduation options open and is most concerned with just getting a job next summer, Allen adds that she’ll “definitely be applying” to jobs like the Staff Writer role she filled at the PLS Reporter through the Capital Semester. When she does, she’ll have a leg up on the competition, especially since her initial internship has already gotten her another opportunity.
“I have a lot of clips, and I have professional experience,” she says. “I did work there for four months—I’m still working for that company, actually. I’m reporting in Philly, but it’s in City Hall, so I’m the Philadelphia correspondent. So, I’m still getting professional experience, which I would argue most college students don’t. When it comes time to give people clips, I have a whole arsenal of things I’ve done over the last five months.”
Allen’s media work got her into a lot of press conference and public hearings and helped her build contacts with legislators’ communications professionals and others around the Capitol Building and City Hall. But for students who want to be on the other side of the fence and work as a part of the government, the program offers plenty of opportunities for that, too.
Senior Evan Martin is an economics major who now plans to take on a minor in political science after getting some experience through the Capital Semester. Martin got into the program after considering an internship in D.C. but realized how expensive it is to live there and how he might be lost in a sea of tens of thousands of other interns in the nation’s capital. He’s also from Harrisburg originally and knew it was a place he liked being.
That I actually got behind it 100 percent was way more than I expected going in
Martin decided to take a role in the Pennsylvania Office of State Treasurer where his time was split between legislative affairs and policy.
“The legislative side is kind of interfacing with the legislature,” he explains. “Also, sorting out the various legal issues that manifest themselves in the Treasury’s normal business, so we do unclaimed property. There's a lot of legal nuance that goes around with unclaimed property. And then on the policy side, that was basically just helping research and bolster Treasury legislative initiatives, so we actually have the ability to push legislation and kind of sponsor—not ‘sponsor,’ but we can draft legislation, and we have a vehicle to get that to the General Assembly, and those initiatives take a lot of research and a lot of development.”
The departments Martin worked in had never had an intern before. They created the position just for him. He’s happy they did, as he ended up working on a lot of research for legislation that found its way to the General Assembly. He once even wound up sitting next to the State Treasurer as he worked through a presentation Martin had created.
“There was actual discourse, between me and this statewide official,” he says. “I mean, he's a brilliant guy. Just in and of itself he's an awesome person and a brilliant guy, and I agree with a lot of his agenda, which helped. It made it a lot more exciting.
“Even if I disagreed with him, it would be so rewarding to do stuff that actually is meaningful policy-wise. That I actually got behind it 100 percent was way more than I expected going in.”
Like Allen, Martin believes the internship has given him an advantage over his fellow Class of 2019 graduates. Aside from the hard skills involved in policy research and sorting out legal issues, Martin also learned a lot about soft skills like networking and feels the overall professional development was something he would never have gotten simply by being in the classroom or continuing to work in retail, which had been his only job experience prior to the Capital Semester.
Temple University Institute for Public Affairs Associate Director Michelle Atherton oversees the program, and she couldn’t agree more.
“A lot of places are looking for experience before they’ll even hire you. How do you get experience without having a job?” she says. “It’s the classic conundrum of the chicken and the egg problem, you know? ‘Must have at least one year experience in this field,’ but you’re a college student, and you’re just graduating, so how the heck are you supposed to actually get that?”
Through an internship, naturally. And the value of that internship’s experience isn’t limited to graduates who want to immediately dive into the professional workforce, either. Atherton cites a student who went through the Capital Semester program in 2017 who was accepted into numerous high-ranking law schools, in part because the schools were impressed that she’d written a bill at just 21 years old. Other alumni have ended up as lobbyists, government relations specialists, reporters and even chiefs of staff for politicians. Meanwhile, another recent student ended up going to graduate school in Germany. Martin is also planning to continue his education at grad school after next spring.
There are things to do, I promise
For these students and graduates, a one-semester stop in Harrisburg was more than worth it to them. In fact, Allen enjoyed her time there so much she gets excited when asked if it’s a place where students can have a fun experience outside of their working hours.
“There are a lot of live shows and a lot of local bands you can check out that just happen to perform at bars,” she says. “There are things to do, I promise. I know that’s the number one thing, like ‘What is there to do?’ There are things to do. There are a lot of cute brunch places—there’s actually one of my favorites that you go there for brunch, and they give you a free movie afterwards.”
It’s one of many reasons Allen says students considering the program should “just do it.” Pennsylvania Capital Semester interns, she says, build real experiences.
They’re not alone in that, though. Atherton also oversees the Washington Semester for interns who want to work in the nation’s capital. “The two programs are similar in integrating academic coursework, intense on-the-job experience and professional development training,” she says.
But students in Harrisburg typically get a much closer look at public policy-making than they would get in Washington. They have more direct contact with the top decision makers and more of them have had job offers directly as a result of their internships.
And they quickly discover if it’s the sort of work they could make a career of. “You don't have to be like, ‘I really want to be in government,’ ‘I really want to be in public service,’ you don't have to be coming from that mindset,” says Martin. “Because I wasn't in that mindset. I had an interest. I thought it would be cool. You need maybe that baseline interest in public service.”
Head to Harrisburg with just that, and you’ll discover if politics are for you or not. And even if they’re not, you’ll have some valuable professional experience on your resume to help employers discover that you’re the right person for them to hire.