Internship Reflections: Michelle Zhang '21

Michelle Zhang
Michelle Zhang

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.

Michelle Zhang '21 reflects on her summer working with Cities of Service and the Love Your Block Program in South Bend, IN.

What inspired you to pursue a public service internship this summer?

After interning at an impact investing firm last summer, and seeing private sector approaches to solving social problems, I wanted to learn more about how the public sector approached these issues. I also wanted to feel closer to the impact and learn more about how a municipal government operates.

Can you share one specific project you focused on this summer?

This summer I spent a lot of time with the Love Your Block program, a grant the City of South Bend won from the non-profit Cities of Service. The grant is intended to build community engagement through a neighborhood revitalization project. South Bend decided that their project would be small home repairs to address aging homes in the city, a priority of the Mayor. Along with these repairs, we also held neighborhood clean-ups, followed by a block party to help introduce neighbors to each other and to their neighborhood association. By building capacity of neighborhood associations, residents have a resource they can turn to for support and the City has a more efficient way of sharing new projects or programs with residents. All these goals aside, the primary objective of the program was to improve the lives of residents, one window or doorbell at a time. You can read more about the program here.

What are you most excited about pursuing a path in public service and government?​

I think what draws me to public service is the ability to make an impact on people's lives and work with other people who are passionate and dedicated to their work. What I'll remember most about my time in South Bend is the commitment of city employees and resident volunteers to fighting for their neighborhoods.

How has the IOP helped support your interest in public service over the course of your time at Harvard?​

Over the course of my time at Harvard, the IOP has served as a source of knowledge and inspiration. The forum events are my favorite to attend on campus because they are interesting and engaging in a very real-world way. It's easy to get stuck in the "Harvard bubble," so the IOP has been my way of re-engaging with the world. There's really no place or organization like it on campus.