Paterno Fellow completes summer internship at US Department of the Treasury

Rebecca Marcinko
September 01, 2021

A junior Paterno Fellow double majoring in international politics and history, Najee Rodriguez spent the summer working for the federal government. He translated skills from his national security concentration within international politics to his internship at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

“Essentially, the goal is to ensure that there's a safe and sound banking system,” he said. “If you think about it, (banking) really does connect to national security because of the financial aspect of how sensitive our markets are, and the foundation of the global economy is really rooted in the United States in a lot of aspects.”

Rodriguez learned about the remote internship through the College of the Liberal Arts and consequently the Federal Diversity Internship Initiative — a program that recruits “members from marginalized communities into public service and (assists) them with that process of acclimating to public service and having equal opportunity.”

“[That’s] super important … like really ensuring that there is diversity within the government and making sure it's representative of the population,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez’s mentor through the Liberal Arts Alumni Mentor Program, Sharon Callahan (1983, French business), also helped guide him toward internship opportunities.

A woman and man sitting at a booth in a diner

Rodriguez with Callahan in Washington on July 14.

IMAGE: Provided

“As a first-generation college student, it was extremely difficult to acclimate to college. Sharon has made me feel confident about the future that I want to have for myself,” he said. “The magnitude of impact that Sharon has had in my life is indescribable.”

Rodriguez is not a finance major nor is he studying anything commonly associated with working in the Department of the Treasury. Yet, he had a “remarkable” experience utilizing his existing skills from his liberal arts education while simultaneously acquiring new lessons that he's ready to apply to not only his classes but also to his vast number of extracurricular activities this semester.

Rodriguez remembers attending the College of the Liberal Arts’ Meet the Dean event his first semester at Penn State and hearing Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, talk about the value of a liberal arts degree.

Rodriguez described the Department of the Treasury as being inundated with business majors, but from his classes within the College of the Liberal Arts, he was able to utilize his analytical and critical thinking skills to complete assignments that involved some degree of business knowledge.

“I have become a more versatile learner and worker as a result.”

Rodriguez worked remotely as a generalist — meaning he completed a wide range of different assignments with each week’s work varying from the last.

“That was really exciting to be able to transverse every two weeks into a new topic where I'd work with a new team of examiners,” Rodriguez said.

A screenshot of numerous people in a Zoom meeting

Rodriguez and his coworkers in a Zoom meeting

IMAGE: Provided

Throughout the internship, versatility was key — Rodriguez said it was initially challenging, but he was flexible and adaptable due to his “wholesome … well-rounded (liberal arts) education.”

Gwen Froseth, the examiner-in-charge of the OCC’s Fifth Third Bank supervision unit, and Brandon Bonds, the large banks supervisor and Rodriguez's direct supervisor in the same office, ensured that Rodriguez received the same type of enrichment opportunities as he would in person, despite it being a virtual experience. Through daily and weekly meetings, the invitations to attend meetings with bank management and lessons on how the overall Department of the Treasury operates, Rodriguez says he was able to maintain a very similar experience as he would if he had been in person.

“I have a really personal connection with the 2008 financial crisis — that was really a hard time for me …  a lot of that was due to a lack of oversight to the banks,” he said. “I think one of the most rewarding parts (of the internship) was just the ability to partake in analysis of bank management.”

“One of my favorite assignments was being able to actually review policies and analyze them to make sure that they're in line with federal guidelines.”

Rodriguez said this work ensures responsible and safe banking, which prevents harming the customers of the bank — the American public.

“It felt like I was taking actionable steps to protect the financial system and just really provide public service as a whole.”

Even before this experience, Rodriguez has been dedicated to serving the American public after graduating, and his internship only solidified this commitment to eventually work for the federal government.

“It is rewarding work that directly benefits the lives of Americans, and it's a sphere that I want nothing more than to be a part of,” he said. “I can say with absolute certainty that I want to work within the federal government at some capacity after graduation, to truly better the lives of others.”

“I originally had immense anxiety about finding a job that I would love after college, but Sharon has alleviated so many of my concerns ... With her constant motivation and check-ins, we have identified areas that I would thrive in.”

Rodriguez received enrichment funding through the Liberal Arts Career Enrichment Network to participate in this internship experience. In addition to support from the Career Enrichment Network and his mentor, Rodriguez contributes his success to the Paterno Fellows Program.

“Paterno Fellows has prepared me for the rigor of government work through pushing for the utmost of academic achievement and through honors courses and seminars,” he said. “Paterno Fellows also gave me the funding that I needed to continue with this opportunity.”

“I could not have pursued this opportunity without the college's support,” he said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 02, 2021