November 2013

This document reports on the sixth year of the Wellman Hill Political Science Internship Grants Program. The grants were made possible by a generous gift from Elizabeth (Liz) Hill (B.A., M.A., 1997) to honor her grandfather, Wellman Hill. The program enables Political Science majors to accept public service summer internships that financial limitations might otherwise force them to decline.

The Selection Process

Associate Professor Elliot Posner chaired the Wellman Hill Selection Committee comprised of Professor Karen Beckwith, Professor Emeritus Ken Grundy, Visiting Assistant Professor Yuri Linetsky of the School of Law and Adjunct Assistant Professor Andrew Lucker.

Professor Posner held an informational meeting on October 30, 2012 for potential applicants that included presentations from 2011-2012 grant recipients and the Career Center’s Experiential Learning Specialist Drew Poppleton. The committee officially launched the competition in November, and 16 students submitted applications by February 18, 2013. The committee interviewed a subset of the candidates on March 26, 27 and 29 and announced the recipients and alternates on April 11. All of the 2013 grantees found internships by the May 24 deadline.

The committee left the basic rules of the competition largely unchanged. The formal requirements of eligibility included: 1) a major in political science; 2) two semesters of coursework at CWRU; 3) a 3.0 minimum grade point average in political science; 4) a graduation date no earlier than December following the internship summer; and 5) indication of commitment to public service. Students completed an application form that included a personal statement and a letter of reference from a CWRU faculty member, and provided the committee with a one-page resume. Professor Posner held a resume-building workshop (led by Mr. Poppleton). The main criterion for selecting grant winners was the extent to which applicants’ personal stories and their selected internships matched the public service goals of the program. Once again, a panel of Career Center staff members conducted mock interviews to help students prepare.

As in previous years, the students impressed the committee with their strong interviews, making the selection process highly competitive. This year the committee gave grants to five students, all of whom found exciting and impressive internships and represented the Department of Political Science and the University well.

Liz Hill honored the finalists and alternates on May 4 with a celebratory dinner at XO Prime Steaks. The event capped the sixth year of this inspired program, which has broadened the experiences and aspirations of our students and has had an immeasurable impact on the department and university.

The 2013 Wellman Hill Political Science Internship Grants Recipients and Alternates

Mitchell Diles, Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
Shivani Parikh, White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Hannah Steele, International Rescue Committee at their Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA)
Beth Vitale, CASA for Kids of Geauga County
Silvana Zapata-Ramirez, Malaria Operation of Meaningful Volunteer (Uganda)

Kathryn Witkowski
Destinee Henton

Reports by Grant Recipients on Their Internship Experiences

Mitchell Diles
Legal Aid Society of Cleveland

During the summer of 2013, I used my Wellman Hill Grant to intern at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. One of the oldest legal aid organizations in the country, their mission is to “secure justice and resolve fundamental problems for those who are low income and vulnerable by providing high quality legal services and working for systemic solutions.” In fulfilling their mission, Legal Aid not only advocates for justice, but also empowers clients and the surrounding community. With four offices located throughout Northeast Ohio, 45 staffed attorneys and more than 1600 volunteer attorneys practice in areas of consumer rights, domestic violence, education, employment, family law, health, housing, foreclosure, immigration, public benefits, utilities and tax.

For the duration of my internship, I worked at Legal Aid’s largest office in downtown Cleveland’s Warehouse District. I arrived early my first day to meet with Ann Porath, Legal Aid’s Managing Attorney for the Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) and Intake Unit. She immediately informed me of the department’s responsibilities, which include screening all applications for legal services, client information gathering, and conducting various community outreach programs. Unfortunately, due to eligibility standards set in accordance with the federal poverty guidelines and Legal Aid’s limited resources, more than half of the 15,000-plus petitions for aid received each year are not served. With this understanding, I could not have been more eager to start work.

After a tour and an orientation meeting, I was introduced to numerous attorneys and staff working in Legal Aid’s consumer and family law practice groups, as well as its HEWII (Health, Education, Work, Income, and Immigration) division. Driving home later that day, I could not help but be struck by a sense of profound admiration for those I had met. Over the course of the next eight weeks, my respect for the individuals working at Legal Aid only increased.

Although not enrolled in law school, I was immediately entrusted with a substantial amount of responsibility. I worked on bankruptcy, child support, and pro se divorce cases, all while being in direct contact with clients. Additionally, I attended multiple free brief advice and referral clinics staffed by the Legal Aid Society and attorneys from numerous other Cleveland law firms.

Working for with the clients served by Legal Aid certainly gave me a different perspective on the issues confronted by those falling in lower socioeconomic classes. One of my more memorable experiences occurred while working with an older gentleman on his pro se divorce case. While prohibited from going into specific details due to confidentiality requirements, following the completion and mailing of his paperwork, I arrived the next morning to find a heartfelt voicemail thanking me for the time and effort I devoted to his case. Although small, the voicemail and other experiences were constant reminders of the appreciation clients had for the services provided by Legal Aid.

I believe it takes a special type of individual to work at Legal Aid. The intake specialists, attorneys, and volunteers truly care about securing justice for those who would otherwise be unable to obtain legal services. They make positive differences in the lives of thousands of individuals. After having the experience of working for such an organization, I could not be more thankful to Ms. Hill and the Wellman Hill Selection Committee for providing me with such an opportunity.

Shivani Parikh
White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Washington, D.C.

This summer, I had the privilege of interning for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Washington, D.C. I can say without a doubt that this was the most enriching experience of my life.

The Initiative, chaired by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, was established by President Barack Obama in 2009 to improve the quality of life and opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders by facilitating increased access to and participation in federal programs.

I, as one of ten interns in an office of about fifteen employees, was fortunate enough to have a wealth of opportunities. While I was able to work on a variety of projects in several issue areas, one of my main tasks was to compile media clips each morning. By scouring the news, I identified relevant news stories, gathered and formatted them, and then sent them for editing. These clips got sent out each morning to the office as well as to the numerous non-employees with a vested interest in Asian American and Pacific Islander affairs. Other communications-related work involved assisting with the Initiative’s Facebook and Twitter pages and creating pages on the Initiative website.

Other projects I worked on involved researching and writing blogs that were published on, planning events to engage communities across the nation and helping with programs to spread the word about the Affordable Care Act to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. For one endeavor, I got to collaborate with Google’s Washington, D.C. office on a Google hangout event designed to reach out to communities with limited English proficiency. On another occasion, I was able to attend a meeting with military officials at the Pentagon, discussing discrimination and diversity in the military.

One notable project I worked on was preparing briefing materials for the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Secretary Duncan was scheduled to meet with a group of young immigration reform activists comprised of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients and their supporters. The Initiative was asked to prepare the briefing materials, so I got to put together background information, talking points and useful information for Secretary Duncan to prepare him for the meeting. Additionally, I got to sit in on the meeting between Secretary Duncan and the young leaders.

In addition to work done in the office, I was given the opportunity to staff several events in conferences that took place at the Department of Education, the Department of Transportation and the White House. Each of these, combined with the invaluable office experience, opened my eyes to how things work in government, and what kind of role I can play once I graduate and begin my career.

An amazing aspect of living and working in D.C. was the exposure and access to enriching people. During my time, I was able to learn so much outside of the office by making contacts and having informal conversations with White House personnel as well as my supervisors, who served as role models and gave me invaluable advice on what my next steps should be. After meeting them and learning from them, I feel confident in my convictions and my goals. I feel inspired to continue working in public service and I know I have made long-term mentors who will continue to advise me.

I owe so much to Ms. Elizabeth Hill and the Wellman Hill grant program. This has been the most rewarding summer of my life, and none of it would have been possible without this grant. Having grown up as a part of the Asian American community, it meant a great deal to me to be able to work on minority issues and strive for further representation of the community. Thanks to this experience, I have become more informed and driven. After witnessing the impact that government can have in people’s everyday lives, my experience working for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is one I will never forget, and one that will surely shape the rest of my life.

Hannah Steele
International Rescue Committee, New York City

This past summer I had the privilege of using my Wellman-Hill Grant to intern with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in New York City. The IRC is a non-governmental organization that provides emergency relief, post-conflict development, and refugee resettlement. I had the pleasure of working at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA) as a peer counselor.

The purpose of RYSA is to help refugee youth acclimate to the American school system by creating a mock school for the summer. Last summer RYSA had 145 students between the ages of four and twenty-four from over fifteen countries. There were a total of sixty peer counselors, ten for each class, five for the morning and five for the afternoon. As a peer counselor I worked directly with the students and helped the lead teachers and assistant teacher. I worked with seventeen kids in the group, High School 2, ranging in ages from sixteen to twenty-four. All seventeen students had been in the U.S. no longer than two years.

Monday through Friday was regular school days with a basic high school class schedule. Then on five of the seven Fridays we set out into NYC on field trips. We visited museums and parks and as peer counselors, took the time to really get to know our students and build relationships with them. It was our goal to make them feel comfortable not only with the U.S. school system and the City but also with us. We wanted them to know they had someone to talk to, no matter what the subject was.

One of my favorite moments of the summer happened in the College and Career Readiness class. The students were working on their public speaking so the teacher had them play a variation of the game two truths and a lie. Each of the students had to write down something that was true about them and something that was not. Then, they had to pick either the lie or the truth, write a little story about it and present it to the class.

Most of the students actually enjoyed the activity and enjoyed discerning the truth or lie. Then all of a sudden one of the quieter students got up and began to tell her story. She told a story of how she had a boyfriend in Burma and how they dated for three years and they were so in love with each other. However she and her family soon fled to Malaysia and thus she left her boyfriend behind but they still kept in contact. In fact, one day she and her boyfriend planned to talk on the phone but he did not answer the phone. She found it strange so she called her friend who told her that her boyfriend had become very sick and passed away that day. At this point this particular student had tears in her eyes and rushed her words. Without a doubt I thought I was going to have to take her to the counselor’s office because she looked like she was going to break down.

The moment of truth came and an overwhelming majority of the class, everyone but one person thought she was telling the truth. Her emotions were so real there was no way she could make such a horrible story up so quickly and act so emotional about it. Yet when the teacher asked those who thought she was lying to raise their hands, only her sister did matter-of-factly and the storyteller revealed that her story was a lie. The whole classroom erupted in laughter. None of us peer counselors saw that coming, especially from such a quiet, soft-spoken student.

My time with the International Rescue Committee exceeded any expectations I had at the beginning of my summer. I learned so much about refugee populations and refugee resettlement and challenges facing refugees in the U.S. Yet the most rewarding part of the internship was learning about the seventeen refugees I had the honor of working with. They were some of the most intelligent and perceptive people I have ever met. A lot of times the word refugees are seen as needy, dependent people but the 145 students of RYSA blew that out of the water. The Wellman Hill Grant made this experience possible and I will forever be grateful to Ms. Hill and the Grant Committee.

Beth Vitale
CASA for Kids of Geauga County

My summer internship with CASA for Kids of Geauga County, made possible though the generous Wellman Hill grant, was an enriching experience. CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a national non-profit organization that allocates volunteer guardians ad litem to represent the best interest of children involved in cases of abuse, neglect, and dependency. In Geauga County, CASA is an agency of the juvenile division of the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas, so I had the opportunity to work in direct contact with the county judicial system.

As an intern, my time was split between administrative tasks and shadowing opportunities. The administrative projects I initiated focused on challenges to family law in Geauga County. For example, hoarding has become an issue for county law in Geauga, because the various city departments of health, housing, and zoning do not have consistent policies to address the issue. Hoarding is a situation that impacts a family because it creates an unsuitable housing situation for children, and requires the removal of a child from the home. With the CASA Program Director, Chris Steigerwald, I worked to organize a community taskforce that will begin discussing and improving policy challenges. I worked on similar projects concerning the heroin epidemic in Northeast, Ohio, and also about the youths who age out of the foster care system.

Additionally, I spent time meeting with the CASA volunteers to learn about their individual cases and observe their court hearings. These hearings and staff meetings were the most inspirational aspect of my internship because I was able to truly see and understand the impact of laws on the most intimate unit of society, families.

The other part of my internship was spent shadowing different agencies of the county government to learn about the various parts of the juvenile justice system. Mainly, I spent time at the Prosecutor’s Office and the Department of Jobs and Family Services. I shadowed two of the family division prosecutors and the juvenile prosecutor, and learned a bit about the criminal division as well. These individuals all serve a critical role in the community, and learning from the prosecutors taught me a great deal about how the justice system functions. I also shadowed social workers at the Department of Jobs and Family Services, and followed them out to home visits in the community. This was a truly eye-opening experience, because prior to my time with CASA I knew little about the social work profession.

During my summer with CASA I witnessed a great deal of hardship in families struggling through substance abuse and mental health challenges. I will never forget their heartbreaking stories. However, what remains with me most is the passionate commitment of each and every agency of the juvenile justice system to work with individuals, to attempt to reunite families, but most importantly, to provide a healthy and safe future for the children.

Overall, my internship with CASA surpassed my expectations, bringing to light a field of law of which I had previously little knowledge. The experience has reinforced my goal to attend law school and pursue a career in public service. I truly am grateful for Ms. Hill’s generosity. Without the Wellman Hill grant, this opportunity would not have been possible.

Silvana Zapata-Ramirez
Meaningful Volunteer: The Malaria Operation, Buyaya Parish, Uganda

Thanks to the Wellman Hill grant I had the pleasure of traveling to the parish of Buyaya in the Sironko District of Uganda to intern for the Malaria Operation of Meaningful Volunteer. This is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the volunteer to make a meaningful impact. The Malaria Operation is an initiative that works towards reducing the impact of malaria in rural Uganda. I spent a month and half on-site working with the Volunteer Coordinator in training, guiding, and leading a group of Uganda based volunteers. Thanks to the grant I was able to explore my interest in international development and working overseas.

There were four stages to my work in Uganda: (1) before arrival, (2) community meetings, (3) distribution, and (4) follow-up. I began my work in Brussels, Belgium two weeks before I arrived in Uganda. During that time I communicated with the Volunteer Coordinator, Meran Rogers, through email and Skype to learn about the everyday actions of the Malaria Operation, to help create lesson plans to teach the basics of preventing malaria, and to receive support for contacting sponsors to help fund the operation. It was during this time that I learned the specific tasks that I would be working on while abroad.

In Buyaya I led a small group of Ugandan volunteers in community meetings and distributing nets. There were three main lessons that we needed to explain to the citizens: mosquitoes come at night, mosquitoes like still water, and one should not touch the net. With the help of a translator who spoke Lugisu, the language of the Bagisu people of Buyaya, and through interactive activities I led community meetings of about 20 people to teach those three points. After the meetings the citizens would receive a certificate of completion, and we would schedule a time to stop by their home to set up the nets. In order to ensure that the nets would be used properly, each was delivered and set up by a member of our organization. This was important because people might not know how to use the net properly or might try to resell them. In order to make a real impact in Buyaya it was necessary to ensure that all the nets were used effectively.

The final task during my time in Buyaya was to follow up on the use of the nets that were distributed before my arrival. Along with a translator I visited the houses that received nets. I ensured that they were still in use and in good condition. Afterwards I updated the Malaria Operation Database, which catalogued all the dwellings that had received nets. This final step was crucial in being able to track the long-term success of the Malaria Operation.

The experience of travelling to Uganda and working with Meaningful Volunteer is one that I will treasure and cherish for the rest of my life. In addition to gaining leadership skills, multicultural awareness, and exploring career interests, I became more aware of needs and difficulties in a culture far removed from my own. Now, I understand that although people are imperfect we can come together to try and achieve progress and change. Without the generosity of Ms. Hill and the Wellman Hill grant, none of this would have been possible. I am sincerely grateful.