Major offers public policy career opportunities in education

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The education and public policy (EPP) major in the College of Education offers students the opportunity to become skilled and effective policy experts in education at the local, state and federal levels. In addition to the courses of study, EPP students take part in internships that expose students to possible career options in public policy.

"The EPP internship is the keystone in the degree,” said Dana Mitra, associate professor of education and program coordinator of the EPP program. “The internship experience provides students with on-the-job experience in a field of their choice. Students apply the skills and content learned in their coursework into actual policy problems and educational environments.”

Increasingly, for-profit and nonprofit organizations, think tanks, legislators, policymakers and government agencies are calling for sophisticated policy analysts to create and implement innovative public education reform. The EPP major provides the training, knowledge and experience students need to enter the educational policy world.

Stephen Payne, a junior in the EPP program, participated in a 12-week internship last summer at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) in Washington, D.C.

“I worked in the Congressional and Governmental Affairs Office, which represents the issues of colleges and universities to legislators and the executive branch,” said Payne. “I would go to congressional hearings, which ranged in topic from veteran education benefits to National Institutes of Health research, and I would listen for items that might affect universities. I would also do research on how these issues might affect universities.”

Payne said that being in Washington, D.C., was essential, due to his strong interest in national politics and federal policymaking.

“With most of my coursework at Penn State dealing more with K-12 education policy, this internship introduced me to the fascinating world of higher education policy,” said Payne. “Through my internship, I developed strong interests in the appropriations process and in the for-profit higher education industry.”

Payne has a passion for advocacy, which shows even now as a student. He is a representative on the College of Education’s student council as an executive board member. In that role, he supports the council by helping with logistics and program planning. But his main interest is creating a dialogue with the leaders of the college.

“That is why I joined,” said Payne, “to be able to voice concerns for a program that does not have the most visibility or the highest number of students, but still wants to express what our students are thinking. I think it is important (for all majors) to have a seat at the table.”

Along those same lines, Payne is also a representative on the University Park Undergraduate Association of Student Government. There he works on the governmental affairs committee where he supports students who live both on and off campus.

“We help to advocate for students and work with the State College borough, Harrisburg, and, to a smaller extent, Washington,” said Payne.

And this is something that he would like to continue into his career.

“I definitely want to be in Washington and involved in the policy-making process in some way,” said Payne.

And his internship at the APLU might payoff in other ways for Payne, according to Mitra.

“The internships help students to learn what types of jobs they want to pursue after graduation,” said Mitra. “Often the internship becomes a stepping stone to a permanent position the following year.”

EPP undergraduates have served as interns at organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children. These professional field placements engage the EPP students in research projects and synthesize real-world experiences with areas such as diversity, social justice and educational equity.

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Last Updated December 04, 2013