In the 13 years that Paul Soper has been the Internship Director in the Department of Political Science, he’s helped hundreds of undergraduates find public service internships in government, politics and the non-profit sector. All of the students share an interest in politics, but what they learn while interning in the community often influences the direction of their careers and lives.
“I teach the internship course and I hear students say all the time that they learned so much more from their internship experience than they learned in class because they see how things actually work,” says Soper, who next year will be teaching the core course for a new bachelor’s and master’s program in public policy. Launched with an Engaged Department Grant awarded from the University’s Office for Public Engagement in 2011, the program aims to encourage students to pursue careers in public service and equip them with the marketable skills needed to become future leaders.
“In many ways, we are helping students learn to put their scholarly training to work in their communities so they can eventually play a leading role in improving people’s lives locally, nationally and internationally,” Soper continues. And while some students will decide they want to run for office or get into public policymaking, others, like Lawrence Aderinkomi, look for other ways to contribute to the public good.
Aderinkomi, who earned his bachelor’s degree in global studies last month, has been working on an engaged curriculum-based project with a Nigeria-based non-profit called the Good Samaritan Society on and off for several years. After first volunteering with the group while doing mission work, he decided to take on an internship position, proposing that he would write and secure a grant that would allow the organization to buy a much-needed generator.
Because the power grid in Nigeria is unstable, it is not uncommon for Good Samaritan to be without power for days. Wanting the organization to be successful and self-sufficient, Aderinkomi researched sustainable energy systems including solar, wind, hydro and biomass and concluded that given Good Samaritans financial status, biomass was the way to go. Over spring break, he visited All Power Labs in Berkeley, Calif., to see first-hand the generator he and the organization’s board members were considering purchasing with the grant money.
Affordable and sustainable because it can be powered by palm kernels from the palm oil plantations owned by Good Samaritan, the generator will be a big help until a larger system becomes affordable. Soper was impressed by Aderinkomi’s passion for helping people and his ability to use scholarly articles to research ways to bring sustainable energy to developing countries.
Aderinkomi admits that the experience taught him a lot about how challenging and difficult it can be to get a project off the ground. “I still have the belief that I can change the world,” he says. “But now I see that although the world is full of ideas, they only manifest for those who have the diligence and fortitude to make them happen. I’ve seen how hard you have to work to change things.”