By Joseph Rios
Li Chen Chen, who emigrated from Taiwan in 2003 and became a United States citizen in 2015, has a passion for working with people who are underserved by public institutions.
Chen works at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Center for Multicultural Engagement and Inclusion, where she provides services to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students.
“I’ve generally seen myself as a public servant since I was little,” said Chen, a senior English major at MSU Denver. “There are so many ways you can contribute and help people and communities.”
Chen is getting a jump-start on a possible career in public service, thanks to a new internship program offered by MSU Denver and the Hart Center for Public Service, a center at the University that is dedicated to inspiring and preparing future leaders in public service.
The Hart Center and the MSU Denver Presidential Federal Internship will provide six MSU Denver students with the opportunity to spend 10 weeks in Washington, D.C., next summer with a member of Congress or at another federal agency. Students participating in the program will learn about public-service roles through mentorship and by assisting in day-to-day operations.
The internship program is funded by the Hart Center and funds secured by MSU Denver President Janine Davidson, Ph.D. It comes with a hearty endorsement from Davidson, who since becoming president in 2017 has championed the role that the University plays in developing the next generation of public servants.
For Davidson, the task is personal. She began her career as an Air Force officer and military cargo pilot and served as undersecretary of the U.S. Navy under President Barack Obama. Davidson also served as a presidentially appointed commissioner for the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service, which made recommendations to Congress and the president on how to inspire more Americans to serve.
She was recently appointed to the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, a group led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that advises the U.S. secretary of defense on national security and defense matters.
“By funding these internships, we are removing barriers to public-service opportunities that are often out of reach for so many students,” Davidson said. “This is about strengthening our democracy by diversifying the public-sector pipeline so that those who make decisions in the public interest are representative of those they serve. I am so proud of our first cohort of students. They are remarkably talented and motivated, and I know their experience in D.C. with be transformational.”
Cristal Herrera, program manager for the Hart Center, said students participating in the internship will be assigned to their agency based on their major or whatever career path they are leaning toward. She added that each position will expose students to the array of issues and responsibilities associated with public service careers.
“The goal for the Hart Center and for this federal internship program is to diversify public service,” Herrera said. “It was important for us to bridge the gap between the local community and our local college students to have some type of representation out in the real world.”
The interns traveling to Washington will also include first-generation student Jackie Alderete, who has dreams of becoming an immigration-and-civil-rights attorney.
The senior majoring in Political Science emigrated from Mexico with her family when she was 8 years old. Her career aspirations have been shaped by her interest in public service and her desire to give back to the community, she said.
“What I’ve learned in my Political Science classes at MSU Denver is that people who work in bureaucracies have a lot of power and say,” Alderete said. “And that has a huge impact on communities, but especially minority communities. I think that representation is really important, so that’s why I’m so driven to work in public service. I want to be a voice for the Hispanic community, immigrant community and, of course, women.”
Students participating in the program will be paid $6,000 over the course of the internship, and housing and transportation will be covered. Leading up to the beginning of their internships, students will participate in orientation sessions where local leaders and MSU Denver faculty members will work to help them build knowledge and confidence before they leave for D.C., said Alyssa Marks, associate director of industry partnerships at MSU Denver’s Classroom to Career Hub.
“(Students) will get to really experience public service in our nation’s capital, and I think they’ll gain practical skills,” Marks said. “The networking opportunities are huge.”
In addition to Chen and Alderete, other 2022 MSU Denver public service interns include James Vargas, a sophomore majoring in Political Science; Evan Pierpont, a junior majoring in Sustainable Systems Engineering; Kiah Jenkins, a sophomore Political Science major; and Dailynn Quintela, a senior majoring in Political Science.
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