Civic Mobilization: Ruth Zheng '21

Ruth Zheng
Ruth Zheng

Throughout this summer, we will be spotlighting the summer experiences of our IOP students working in politics and public service through their internships across the country and globe.

The Director’s Internship program has been a signature of the Institute of Politics for nearly 25 years and each summer the IOP works with more than 150 government offices, non-profits, and news organizations to provide internships for students who are looking to pursue careers in politics and public service. The IOP also offers summer stipends for rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors accepting non- or low-paying summer internships in local, state, or federal government, public interest groups, non-governmental organizations, political organizations, and political campaigns.

This summer, as in years past, many of those students will be spending their summer working in civic mobilization - participating in organizations that are working to increase civic engagement and education.

Ruth Zheng '21 is spending her summer interning at the Center for Civic Innovation in Atlanta, GA.

What inspired you to choose this public service internship?

I’ve always been drawn to the challenges associated with building stronger and fairer societies. I decided to work at the Center for Civic Innovation in Atlanta because I wanted an opportunity to move from considerations of justice and equality in theory to real world practice. I hoped to learn more about bottom-up approaches to designing public policy at the Center, which works to inspire public participation at all levels and to elevate community driven solutions to social and civic problems. 

What issues have you been focusing on in your internship?

Atlanta has one of the highest income inequality gaps and lowest upward mobility rates in the country. When institutions fall short, ordinary people are forced to shoulder the enormous burden of fighting for things that ought to be taken for granted. In such situations, the best ideas about policy change might not come from the political sphere, but from communities of people who want to live in a world that is different. I worked with and learned from social entrepreneurs in Atlanta who are trying to address urgent social and civic challenges – such as lack of healthy food access, recidivism, and disparate educational outcomes. As a member of the programs and entrepreneurship team, I was on the back end of the Center’s civic engagement and incubation services. I worked primarily on programming, communications, and investor events. 

What are you most excited about working in public service and government?

I’m looking forward to helping empower/ greater levels of community engagement, and I’m beyond excited to be in Atlanta. It’s been an incredibly vibrant and welcoming place. I think the struggles Atlanta faces as a rapidly growing city in balancing economic development and equity provide valuable lessons for cities everywhere. I’ve been super excited to see individuals rising up, speaking out, and taking action on behalf of their communities that have yet to experience the benefits of growth. At the non-profit, we do everything we can to amplify these voices and to provide the services, resources, and capital necessary for community members to challenge the status quo. 

What have you learned from or gotten out of your internship experience this summer?

Working at the Center has been humbling and uplifting. The Center has a fellowship program for social and civic entrepreneurs who are trying to test and scale new ideas about how to improve social outcomes in their communities. Learning more about the work the fellows do and the challenges they face in the social impact world has opened my eyes to how complex our systems are. Even though I’ve spent so much time thinking about these issues in academic settings, I realized how little I actually know about what it takes to achieve systems level change. It’s also been exciting to see innovation in a sector where the primary end goal isn’t profit but rather impact. I hope to continue to learn about the governmental and non-governmental mechanisms that have the potential to address systemic inequalities as well as how to empower civic engagement on a local level.