F&M Stories

F&M in Harrisburg Offers Firsthand Look at Careers in Government

Franklin & Marshall students gained hands-on experience in public affairs this semester through internships in Harrisburg, Pa. The F&M in Harrisburg Practicum included coursework on Pennsylvania’s government and matched students with internship opportunities.

Students applied to enroll in the course, which is taught by Stephen Medvic, F&M Honorable and Mrs. John C. Kunkel Professor of Government. The practicum aims to provide students with a deeper understanding of the complexities of government bureaucracy.

“It’s one thing to understand the academic perspective and the theories about how the government is supposed to operate, and it’s another to see it firsthand,” Medvic said. “It’s not that the theories are wrong, it’s just that there’s a lot of nuance you can miss when you’re studying it in a class.”

Marisol Rivera-Esquivias, a senior government and Spanish double major, was already seeking opportunities to gain experience with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture when she learned about the practicum. 

“Last semester, I testified on a panel of food-chain workers at the state capital as part of a campaign for Driving PA Forward,” Rivera-Esquivias said. “I spoke about my life experiences as the daughter of Mexican immigrant farmworkers.”

Through this experience, she met Stephen Rudman ’05, director of legislative affairs at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. The F&M in Harrisburg Practicum made it possible to turn this connection into an internship with the department. 

Medvic said F&M alumni in Harrisburg helped identify many of the internship opportunities that students were matched with. “In almost all cases, we had F&M connections.”

While some students were seeking specific internship opportunities, others were most excited by the opportunity to take what they learned out of the classroom and into the community.  

Eva Smith, a junior government major with a minor in environmental studies, was drawn to the course because it seemed similar to the community-based learning she’d experienced while studying abroad in Copenhagen in fall 2023

“It’s a great way to learn firsthand and get hands-on experience, to get to know the community more,” Smith said. 

Smith is an intern at Mercury Public Affairs, an international firm with offices in New York City and London as well as Harrisburg. She said working with the firm’s various clients has provided a well-rounded view of potential careers with organizations or causes she cares about. 

Medvic said he encourages students to reflect not only on the practical skills they’re learning but what they appreciate in a work environment or leadership style. “Some of the students haven’t had internships yet, so it’s their first experience working in a professional setting.”

Jennifer Leigh, a senior government and history major, has been interning in the Governor’s Office of Communications and said seeing staff who have transitioned from campaign to government work helped her understand the variety of career paths available in politics. 

“It opened my eyes to what’s possible,” Leigh said, as well as building her confidence and improving her writing skills. Writing news releases forced her to hone a concise and direct writing style. 

“I’m figuring out what the main idea of a policy is and turning that into something the press and public can digest,” Leigh said. 

While the practicum is focused on state-level government, students are building skills that will benefit them in any setting. Sophomore Shubham Jha reflected on his experience interning with the Governor’s Office of Critical Investments as an international student. 

“Every country faces the same kind of problems, they’re just framing the questions differently,” Jha said. “I can think about how ideas apply to Nepal, and how to communicate with different audiences.”

During his internship, Jha has been working on the Pennsylvania Solar for All Program, which aims to implement and upgrade solar-energy technologies in low-income areas and disadvantaged communities across the state.

“We focus on long-term proposals to make sure Pennsylvania has clean energy infrastructure,” Jha said. He’s confident that what he’s learned is applicable beyond Pennsylvania. “If I can work on these problems here, I can work on them in Nepal.”

For Rivera-Esquivias, the F&M in Harrisburg Practicum led to the offer of a full-time job with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture after graduation—and allowed her to reframe her relationship with the government of the state she calls home. 

“As a native Pennsylvanian, my previous visits to Harrisburg were accompanying my parents to meet with their immigration attorney,” which was often stressful, she said. “Having the opportunity to be in these spaces of public service and power has been very reaffirming and healing for me.”

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