Monday, January 22, 2018

Susan Koch: Public affairs internships lead to success

The following is an excerpt from a column by University of Illinois Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on January 20, 2018.

A special commitment to education in public affairs has been central to the mission and vision of the University of Illinois at Springfield since 1970 when Robert Spencer, founding president of Sangamon State University (now UIS), first defined the “professional and vocational objectives” of Illinois’s new state capital university. 

Though a member of the UIS community for just a short time, Sherrie Elzinga, Director of the Graduate Public Service Internship program, knows more about that public affairs commitment than most. 

Before assuming the GPSI Director role in August 2017, Elzinga worked for more than 26 years at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency where, as Chief of Staff, she often observed and mentored students serving GPSI internships. “It’s imperative that we prepare the next generation of competent public servants and this ‘learn-the-ropes experience’ does exactly that,” says Elzinga. “To have the opportunity now as Director to lead and grow the program is really my dream job!” 

About 200 UIS graduate students are part of the GPSI program each year, working 20 hours per week in a state agency internship while at the same time engaging in full time graduate studies at UIS. 

The program is a partnership between the University and more than 20 state offices and agencies, with the agency providing financial support for a tuition waiver and a stipend and the GPSI program providing supervision and coordination. 

Since the program began over 40 years ago, more than 3,500 students have successfully completed the 2-3 year experience, earning a masters degree at the same time they are gaining valuable professional experience and contributing to the mission and success of the agency. 

The majority of those graduates have gone on to successful careers in public service at local, state and national levels — many in the same agencies where they interned. 

Marleigh Andrews-Conrad is one of hundreds of such success stories. After growing up in Springfield and earning an undergraduate degree from St. Louis University, Andrews-Conrad was accepted in the Masters in Public Health and Masters in Human Services dual degree program at UIS and served as a GPSI intern at the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“My GPSI internship was incredibly multifaceted, focusing on a variety of factors that can affect the successful implementation of HIV prevention and care in Illinois,” she reports. “Having the opportunity to consistently practice a variety of ‘real world’ scenarios with the support and encouragement of my GPSI mentor, Janet Nuss, was both motivating and valuable.” 

Andrews-Conrad was honored by the GPSI program in Spring 2017 as recipient of the Brian T. Milbrandt Memorial Intern Award for Excellence. Shortly after completing her internship and masters degree, Andrews-Conrad accepted a position at IDPH working for the Ryan White program, which ensures people living with HIV have access to services that promote health maintenance. 

“As a young professional,” says Andrews-Conrad, “I will always be grateful for my beginnings in public service as a GPSI intern. The experience allowed me to begin a career that aligns with my professional and personal goals and values.” 

As Director Elzinga knows from her years overseeing interns at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the internship supervisor plays a key role in the success of the program. 

Nearly 50 years after defining that commitment to education in public affairs, I think President Spencer would be delighted to see how his vision has come to life in the UIS GPSI program.

Read the entire column online.