McCarthy Center is Gateway, Not Only Way to Intern in Washington D.C

Since 2002, USF’s Leo T. McCarthy Center has been sending students to American University in Washington D.C. as part of a partnership program between the two schools, allowing students to pursue semester-long internships near the nation’s capital that suit their major.

The program has been so successful that in 2006, a summer internship opportunity was added in Sacramento.

“Out of about 50 students that have entered the program, we have had only two say they didn’t have a positive experience,” said program director Patrick Murphy.

The goal of these internships is to give students real work experience, help boost their resumes and aid them in deciding whether their intended major is the right course for them, said Angela Mucci, the McCarthy Center’s program assistant.

“It’s good for students to get out of San Francisco for a little bit and get a real sense of what they will be doing when they get jobs after college,” said Mucci, who recruits students for the internships and servesits on the selection committee. Mucci also helps students with their resumes and handles the program evaluations when students return to USF.

In order to qualify for the internships, students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and be at least second-semester sophomores. Each applicant must also submit a resume and write an essay explaining why he or she wants to go. The McCarthy Center looks for students with a little bit of experience.

“We don’t want the person for whom this would be their first venture in another environment,” said Murphy.

The McCarthy Center receives roughly 15 qualified applicants each semester, and after that, decisions have to be made. While other schools send up to 20 students to the Program at American University, USF is limited to just five because the school pays for most, if not all, of student expenses, including the two units that are earned through the internships. Students interested in earning more units, up to eight are available, must pay and work more hours.

Kimberly Steffen, a USF junior, went to D.C. during the spring ’08 semester and interned at Bennett Group Financial Services, a private finance firm that manages company investments. Steffen said she got the internship through a business fair at USF before she left for D.C. Steffen is an international studies major and an Asian studies minor. She no longer wants to study finance, though she found the internship to be very helpful.

“It was a good experience but I’m no longer interested because it was a little bit too boring,” she said.
With opportunities through the McCarthy limited, some students have taken initiative outside of the program in order to make the trip happen. Caroline Coleman, who was denied an internship by the McCarthy Center twice, contacted American University on her own and was accepted into a similar program.

“I had the most fabulous experience. I worked for the EPA and got to travel to South Africa,” said Coleman, who recommends that students search for alternatives if they can’t participate through USF.

“If you can do it through school, great,” she said. “But if not, don’t let that be your only option.” Coleman said the only difference in her trip was that she was not in the same internship class with other USF students. “I got to meet so many other people,” she said.

“We would love to take everybody,” said Murphy. “But if you can’t do it through us, Caroline is a great example of someone who took initiative and made things happen on her own.”

There is more flexibility in the Sacramento summer internships because students who choose that track usually live in the area. Expenses for USF are lower and the program is not done through another school. The McCarthy Center is able to send eight to Sacramento.

Vince Mahan, a senior politics major who transferred to USF from San Francisco City College, interned in Sacramento last summer in Democratic Senator Lou Correa’s office of California’s 34th district. Mahan received a stipend to help pay for his living expenses in Sacramento.

“They (USF) paid for everything,” said Mahan, whose main job was to find a sponsor for Correa’s bill to increase privacy rights for mobile home owners.

“In the spirit of bipartisanship, I was able to find a republican to sponsor the bill,” he said.

Mahan said that the McCarthy Center tried to put him in an office that matched his political affiliation.
“I’m a moderate democrat, and Senator Correa is as well. It was a perfect fit,” he said.

Senior politics major and legal studies minor Evelyn Molina also interned last summer in Sacramento. Molina was put in Senator Roy Ashburn’s office of California’s 18th district.

“The internship solidified that politics is what I want to do,” said Molina, who wants to go to law school after finishing her undergrad. “I would recommend it [the internship] to other students 150%,” she said.

Some students are questioning the McCarthy Center’s methods in selecting applicants. Coleman, along with senior Rory Koznik, who went on the D.C. trip, both say they are still unclear uncertain abouton the selection process. Koznik was denied the first time he applied, and accepted the second time. “My qualifications didn’t change,” he said.

Murphy explained that applications are evaluated by members of the Career Center and student alumni of the program. If there are more qualified students than available slots, it comes down to how well applicants present their argument in their essays.

“If we can’t take you, we won’t stand in your way of pursuing another way to make the trip,” said Murphy. “We will still try to help students wherever we can.”

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