Penn in Washington absorbs D.C. semester program

After two decades as a summer internship program, Penn in Washington (PIW) has expanded to include the Washington Semester Program formerly run by the Department of Political Science in the School of Arts & Sciences. The Semester Program enables students interested in public policy to live, learn, and work in the nation’s capital during the school year.

Deirdre Martinez, executive director of PIW and a senior fellow at the Fox Leadership Program, says that in addition to centralizing D.C. internship programs, the expansion has allowed her to update the structure of the Semester Program. Having literally written the book on D.C. internships, she knows exactly what it takes to help students secure substantive internships in the nation’s capital and shape their experiences in the district to have maximal impact on their employment opportunities after they graduate.

PIW’s recently-appointed faculty director, John Lapinski, an associate professor of political science, is also the head of NBC’s Elections Unit, and brings an additional wealth of expertise and contacts to the program.

Penn in Washington

While PIW’s popular summer program adds an average of 250 student-interns to the thousands that descend upon Washington, D.C., every summer, Martinez says the Washington Semester Program typically enrolls 12. Washington is virtually free of student-interns during the academic year, a time Martinez says is ripe for students to land higher profile internships with less competition, and make a more lasting impact on their sponsors come recommendation time.

In order to more tightly “connect the academic experience with the real-world experience of Washington,” Martinez has incorporated a triad of courses in politics, process, and policy into the Semester Program. She believes that these classes, in addition to the new, intensive two-week orientation, not only give students a comprehensive sense of how Washington works, but also a firm understanding of how their internship fits into the policymaking world around them.

Martinez has also folded alumni involvement—an integral part of the summer PIW program—into the semester offering. With the help of program intern and former participant Elizabeth Thom, a senior at Penn, Martinez has assembled an extensive database of well-connected alumni who can provide the links that Penn alumni need to get inside the ultimate city of insiders.

Thom is also spearheading the new PIW initiative, DC Advising. This program helps seniors at the University navigate their entry into a career where, she says, “the first few jobs look less like a ladder and more like a zigzag.” Because this “zigzag” often begins with an unpaid internship, Martinez has begun to seek funding in support of recent graduates. She continues the effort to provide stipends for PIW student-interns.

Martinez’s dedication to bringing the University’s best and the brightest students to D.C. is underscored by her belief that “Penn students are great kids and Washington needs them, regardless of what they major in.

“Being in Washington is important, and I try really hard to convince students that this is true,” she says.

Originally published on February 27, 2014