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.
Natalie Sherman Jollis '21 reflects on her summer working with Cities of Service and the Love Your Block Program in Buffalo, NY.
What inspired you to pursue a public service internship this summer?
The economic challenges that Rust Belt cities are facing have been a recurring theme in my classes at Harvard. I wanted to meet and learn from the people taking on these challenges firsthand. Working at the local government level in Buffalo was the perfect opportunity to do so.
I went to Buffalo knowing no one and left with a community of friends. Go to Buffalo! It truly is the City of Good Neighbors and there is so much more there than chicken wings (though, of course, the wings are delicious).
Can you share one specific project you focused on this summer?
Block Clubs are groups of neighbors that meet regularly to build community, engage city resources, maintain their block, and prevent crime. Buffalo has one of the most extensive Block Club networks in the country--over 600 individual clubs are registered and more form every year.
Through Love Your Block, Block Clubs and other small community groups compete for grants of up to $1000 to complete a project of their design, i.e. plant a community garden in a vacant lot, paint a mural, or install lighting to prevent crime. The idea of Love Your Block is the connections made through each project—neighbors meeting neighbors, community members connecting with local nonprofits and city government leaders, etc.—last beyond the end of the project’s funding. All of the hard work of the projects is carried out by volunteer community members but I helped with some administrative support. My favorite part was interviewing the winners of the first round of grant funding. One example: Jefferson Avenue Block Club #644 is bringing together community youth, police officers, local artists, senior citizens, and small business owners to design and paint 12 garbage totes/planters that will line their block as an interactive art project. The group is working with a historian to use some of the totes to highlight the legacy of the many African-American-owned business on Jefferson Avenue (it's where the first Buffalo Chicken Wings were made!). You can read more about the program here.
What are you most excited about pursuing a path in public service and government?
Working from within Buffalo City Hall's Division of Citizen Services (a department that focuses on resident engagement) reminded me how important it is to listen before acting. I am not yet sure what career I will pursue after college but I know that wherever I end up I will make an active effort to understand the needs of the community that surrounds me, especially the people who I might not have an opportunity to regularly interact with and those who have less of a voice in decision-making processes.
How has the IOP helped support your interest in public service over the course of your time at Harvard?
I have been continually inspired by public servants through the IOP's JFK Forum and Fellows programs. I have had the opportunity to speak to a huge variety of people--ranging from the First Lady of Iceland to the Parkland Activists--and all of them have reminded me to keep real world challenges in mind when learning about new ideas in the classroom.