Thanks to her summer internship with the National Wildlife Refuge Association in Washington, D.C., Julia Czech, ’11, has had a front-row seat on the news events unfolding around the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer.

“Two weeks ago I was at the hearing with Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP,” she says. “Yesterday, I was in a hearing with [U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken] Salazar. I have gotten to see and hear a lot of interesting things, to be right there when it’s happening.”

In her internship, Czech, who is a double major in art history and leadership studies, has done a lot of writing, updating a website with information about the oil spill, and attending and taking notes on hearings and conferences on Capitol Hill. She says the experience is helping her to clarify what she wants to do after graduation — probably not law, but possibly something in the environmental field.

Czech’s internship is part of the University of Richmond’s D.C. Initiative (DCI), which connects eligible students with summer internship opportunities offered by alumni and friends of the University. The program also offers career development seminars and networking events with alumni in the D.C. area.

The most recent event featured University President Dr. Edward Ayers and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Guitterez who both spoke to about 120 alumni and 30 students during a reception at a Washington hotel.

Dr. Dan Palazzolo, chair of the political science department, started the D.C. Initiative in 2001 to engage alumni in nontraditional ways. “One of the ideas was to connect our students with alumni and high-quality internships,” he explains. “We thought if we could invite our alumni to participate in our university in a variety of different ways, there might be more active alumni.”

With more than 4,000 alumni living in the area, Washington is a popular destination for University of Richmond graduates. That first year, Palazzolo mined alumni databases and used his own connections to set up 16 internships for Richmond students.

Since then, the program has grown steadily, with Palazzolo handing over the reins to the Career Development Center this year.

This summer, 32 Richmond students are working in Washington for a wide range of organizations including: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Peace Corps, the Democratic National Committee, The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Kidney Foundation, TIAA-CREF and Ford Motors.

Beth Chancy, an assistant director in the Career Development Center, explains that students must apply to participate in DCI. If they are accepted into the program, they may then apply for internships that are open only to DCI participants.

 “These are opportunities that students wouldn’t necessarily be able to access, or they wouldn’t know were available, or they couldn’t seek on their own,” she says.

Chancy was instrumental in working with the Partnership for Public Service to develop the Pathways program, which connects DCI participants with internships in the federal government.

Leah Harrelson, associate director for volunteer engagement at the University of Richmond, secured 10 new DCI internships this year, mostly through contacting alumni.

“I feel like alumni want to give back to the university,” she says. “One way they can really do that is through offering internships. ... We hope students can maintain their connections to these alumni employers.”

On July 1, the University of Richmond’s Office of Alumni Relations and the Career Development Center were merged into the new Office of Alumni and Career Services. This new office was formed to engage alumni with the university and to provide career development services for students and alumni. DCI is an example of how this new office can combine career services with alumni connections.

Judge George Varoutsos, R’70 and L’73, of Arlington, Va.’s, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, has hosted DCI interns for the past six years. Varoutsos’s interns spend four to six weeks exploring different facets of the court, from shadowing lawyers and attending pre-court coffee meetings in the judge’s chambers, to touring the adult jail and observing circuit court jury trials.

“The interns are not getting paid, so we try to make it a fun experience as well as a learning experience,” he says. “This is good exposure for someone who wants to go to law school or into public service.”

Varoutsos has been pleased with his Richmond interns and plans to continue participating in DCI. “Every single one of the interns has been terrific,” he says. “They want to do more than we even ask of them. They are so engaging and active and inquisitive.”

The success of the program, “depends on the goodwill of the alumni and the good work of the students,” Palazzolo says. “I think that is what really has kept it going.”

 

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