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Connecting Undergrads to Policy Career Paths

Helping more Duke undergraduates find on-ramps to policy careers is the goal of two innovative programs offered by the Sanford School Office of Career Services.

The Embark program aims to help students navigate and network in the field of public policy, primarily by connecting them to alumni who work in fields the students are interested in. Embark also seeks to help create a sense of community among students interested in working in policy areas.

About a third of public policy undergraduates choose first post-graduation jobs in finance and consulting, in part because banks and consulting firms recruit earlier in the academic year and are more visible on campus.

“Our goal is to expand the conversation about what’s possible,” says Assistant Internship Director Suzanne Valdivia, who heads the Embark program. Valdivia works with a student advisory committee.

John McGinty PPS’13, director of public transit partnerships at Mozio—a transportation-booking service—said it would be an invaluable resource.

“Leveraging Sanford’s Embark program and the strength of the university's alumni network is a fantastic way to discover the flexibility of a public policy degree and the variety of real world challenges it positions you to help solve,” he said.

Forty-nine students attended Embark’s fall opening event featuring Reggie Love T’05, and Jared Weinstein PPS’02, both former personal aides to presidents.

Senior Public Policy major Justin Bryant, a member of the student advisory committee, said the program helps students combat pressure to pursue certain options.

“Duke needs a program like Embark because the breadth of opportunities and careers in policy are not greatly advertised, and students frame their expectations around what they see around them,” he said.

Valdivia noted that the program is also open to Duke students who are not majoring in public policy. The Embark team also includes Nikki Smith, assistant director at the Duke Career Center. The partnership makes it possible to reach a broader audience of students and to incorporate concrete job-seeking skills into the alumni-focused events being planned.

Public-Private Internships

A second program for undergraduates, the Public-Private Partnership, provides funding on a competitive basis for Sanford students to work in private-sector organizations focused on some of the public sector’s toughest problems.

It is a new iteration of a program that debuted in 2013.

Partner organizations develop projects for policy interns to tackle. Students go through a matching process to pair them with the organization they will work with during the summer. The program also may offer students policy-oriented workshops throughout the summer.

Each year, the program will have a different focus, said Undergraduate Internship Director Elise Goldwasser. Goldwasser said she anticipates the first to be health policy and the $25,000 the program received from the Provost’s Office to fund five to six summer internships.

“There are so many students interested in health policy and right now, the government needs private-sector help for solutions,” Goldwasser said. “There are a lot of health policy internship options out there.”

The program should be ready for student applications by January 2017.