Expanded internships bring mutual benefit to students and government agencies

The University of Chicago is expanding an innovative internship program that matches undergraduate and graduate students with local government agencies, where the students’ specialized knowledge could make a positive impact.

The University’s Institute of Politics is leading the Urban Policy and Research Program in partnership with the UChicago Crime Lab, Urban Education Lab and the Office of Civic Engagement. Under the initiative, 25 students will be selected for internships in which they can apply their in-depth academic training to essential urban challenges. Students stand to gain valuable experience in these capacity-building roles, and will have the chance to make a real impact on local government.

“Government agencies are hungry for our UChicago students and the rigorous approach they bring to research, data and policy challenges,” said Dillan Siegler, the IOP’s director of Partnerships & Engagement. “Our students are really filling a need among these agencies, and the IOP is thrilled to support their work.”

The Urban Policy and Research Program had a soft launch in January 2014 with the help of seed funding from the University of Chicago Women’s Board. The program begins full operation this month for the 2014-15 academic year, with a five-year commitment of support from the Irving Harris Foundation at the recommendation of Joan W. Harris.

Ideas for the program began to take root when Chicago Police Department Superintendent Garry McCarthy reached out to University leaders in 2012. McCarthy was seeking more opportunities to partner with University students to advance public safety, especially through data analysis and other areas of expertise in urban issues. Those contacts led to a plan by Siegler and the Crime Lab's Executive Director, Roseanna Ander.

“The Urban Policy and Research Program grew out of work that the Crime Lab has done since its inception, providing strategic planning and analytic support to local city agencies seeking to increase their impact and effectiveness in dealing with some of our city’s most pressing challenges,” Ander said. “We supported this work both with our own staff and by training, mentoring and embedding talented UChicago graduate students and undergraduates in public agencies in the Chicago area. By placing highly motivated UChicago students in real-world settings, this ambitious internship program will help to connect the work of a major research university with the important challenges and exciting opportunities of the communities that surround it. We are thrilled to be partnering with the IOP on this effort.”

While students clearly benefit from the program, so does the city of Chicago. Evelyn Diaz, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family & Support Services, said she was excited about the chance to continue working with students as part of this program.

“Urban Policy and Research Program fellows helped our department coordinate the city of Chicago’s largest-ever summer jobs program for youth this year, taking on tasks that significantly improved the youth experience and helped us achieve a smooth launch,” Diaz said. “They added so much value to our operation, it was difficult to see them go. Needless to say, we are looking forward to working with the next crop of UChicago fellows again this academic year.”