Public policy students secure job offers through summer internships

Ellie West
September 21, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s master of public policy (MPP) degree program in the College of the Liberal Arts will see its second official cohort graduate this upcoming spring. The program equips its students to help identify, analyze and solve the world’s major policy issues, and a few have already begun spearheading these important efforts.

This year, three graduate students — Vipul Kapoor, Alex Lutz and Rebecca LaBelle — have already secured job offers following their summer internship experiences.

Vipul Kapoor

Second-year graduate student Vipul Kapoor, class of 2020 in political science, spent this past spring and summer interning with the startup Column, a public benefit corporation working to modernize and simplify the distribution of public interest information. The company describes itself as the first collaborative public notice platform helping journalists, governments and legal services work together to inform their communities.

The role exposed Kapoor to many different facets of the company such as partnerships and marketing, operations, finance and revenue, research, product and back-end implementation. As someone who holds a great desire to learn, Kapoor said these wide-ranging responsibilities were exactly what he was looking for.

“Column is at the intersection of so many things that interest me: local, independent journalism; public notices; public policy issues; technology and even entrepreneurship. I knew from the beginning that this was the best place for me to be,” he said.

After being introduced to the dynamic environment of a tech startup like Column, Kapoor said he was quickly able to narrow down his own degree specialization — information technology.

“Working [at Column] and seeing firsthand the vastly growing industry led me to become a lot more interested in this field. I’ve since learned a lot about cybersecurity needs and how they are vital to any business ... it kind of became a no-brainer,” he said.

At the completion of his internship in August, Kapoor was brought on as a part-time technical implementation specialist, with the opportunity to become a full-time employee following his graduation in May of 2022. Kapoor also currently works as a graduate research assistant for Andrew Fenelon, assistant professor of public policy and sociology at Penn State, aiding with his research on the relationship between public policy and population health.

Kapoor described how he was initially drawn to Penn State’s MPP program because of the abundance of career opportunities and widespread impact that a public policy specialization could provide.

“I want to have an impact on people and give back wherever I can,” he said. “My values will ultimately line up with the work I am doing.”

This desire to make an impact extends outside of the classroom as well. In 2018, Kapoor co-founded a startup called Delco Printers in an effort to give back to small businesses in his local community.

“My neighborhood [in Delaware County, Pennsylvania] was predominantly all immigrants — my parents included. Our mission was to help these local business owners, the majority of whom were non-English speakers, to operate with a grasp of real-world technology and optimize the workflow of their businesses.”

Moving forward, Kapoor aspires to work in the tech-policy field and eventually start his own nonprofit. While he hopes to be “successful,” he says he will define his future success by the impact he is having on those around him.

“I want to help other people and make the world a better place. Those are ultimately my guiding principles, and I will not deviate from those values.”

Alex Lutz

Alex Lutz, class of 2019 with a degree in classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, is set to graduate from Penn State’s MPP program this December, earning his master’s degree with a specialization in bureaucracy and governance. Currently, Lutz is working full time as the partnerships lead for Column, completing his final credits of the MPP program remotely.

Similar to Kapoor, Lutz also was able to secure his position at Column following an engaging internship with the company over the summer.

“I’d say my internship at Column was an eclectic mix of responsibilities in several major departments — partnerships, operations, customer success, implementation, and even finance,” he said. “In an environment like Column, if you show you can produce quality work that stems from creative thinking, they start moving you everywhere there’s a project that no one’s yet been able to figure out.”

Column first caught Lutz’s attention when Penn State alumnus Kevin Richman, class of 2007 in international politics and economics and head of consumer experience at Column, came to speak to the program’s cohort of students in the fall of 2020. After his initial application for a summer position was rejected, Lutz reached out to fellow MPP student and Column intern Vipul Kapoor for assistance.

“Vipul was generous enough, even after my application had already been rejected once, to submit me as a recommendation for consideration,” he said.

Following this effort, Lutz was able to secure the internship and go on to collaborate with Kapoor throughout the summer on a number of projects.

Now, Lutz said he is doing his best to “spread the success” by setting up the MPP program with a direct link to Column for potential new interns so that the College of the Liberal Arts can share Column’s job postings whenever possible.

“It’s very beneficial to the company to have MPP students join the team,” he said. “The program does a fantastic job developing future leaders, especially because it operates under the expectation that students take on responsibility and succeed given autonomy.”

Lutz described how the method of thinking he has developed from both the MPP program and his liberal arts education has been greatly transferable to his various roles with Column.

“The deep, creative and ambitious thinking that I utilized in my courses and in this program has helped to propel both myself and the company forward,” he said.

Moving forward, one of Lutz’s major goals is to help Column eventually dive into the public sector.

“We’re following a great mission at Column, and I want to help champion it,” he said. “I’ve found that generally I want to help people — it’s why I entered the MPP program in the first place — and the people and culture at Column help me do that.”

But his ambitions do not end there — Lutz hopes to one day pursue his own philanthropic endeavors and help to solve the world’s pressing programmatic problems.

“After seeing the ‘complex simplicity’ of making a change in the world — both through the rugged academic lens of the policy program as well as the wild frontier of an early-stage startup — I believe truly anything is possible if you practice a few simple principles: dedication, passion, empathy, forthrightness and ambition,” he said.

Rebecca LaBelle

Second-year graduate student Rebecca LaBelle spent her summer interning with the Virginia Department of Health, working directly underneath the instruction of Dr. Danny TK Avula on the state’s COVID-19 policy.

Through her work with Avula, LaBelle was tasked with a multitude of responsibilities ranging from research to writing white papers to compiling news roundups of relevant policy changes.

“I worked directly under the purview of Dr. Avula, who is the COVID vaccine czar for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” she said. “My internship was a wide variety of activities, but mostly focused on COVID-19, the state response to COVID-19, and also post-COVID — what we can do as a public health system [at a state level] in the future.” 

LaBelle graduated from Virginia Tech in May of 2020, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in legal studies. This spring, she will graduate from Penn State’s MPP program with a degree specialization in health policy.

At the completion of her summer internship with the Virginia Department of Health, LaBelle was extended an offer to continue working with Avula full time throughout the school year, which she accepted.

On top of this role and being a full-time student, LaBelle also serves as a graduate research assistant for Stephen Moczydlowski, enrollment and advising manager for Penn State’s School of Public Policy, and Whitney Chirdon, director of communications for Penn State’s School of Public Policy.

“As a graduate research assistant, I have mainly been helping with MPP recruitment events on campus, conducting background research on speakers, and collecting publication information about faculty,” she said. “The program is only three years old, so everyone is still trying to figure out how things need to look, so that is kind of what I get to help out with, which is kind of exciting.”

LaBelle described how her favorite aspect of being a liberal arts student was the overall flexibility of the curriculum.

“My liberal arts degrees have allowed me to expand myself and better my own education without being restricted,” she said. “I can take philosophy, science, sociology or even math classes; there's just such a wide variety of information and knowledge out there for me to learn.”

As she progresses further into her professional career, LaBelle hopes to leave a greater impact on the country’s healthcare system, with the goal of one day increasing health care access to underserved communities in the United States.

“My brother was diagnosed very young with a brain tumor, and after spending time in the hospital during his treatment, I was able to see how lucky we were to have access to those healthcare resources,” she said. “But I also quickly learned that this was not the case for everyone.

“I don't like the fact that some families might have to make the decision to give something up, just so their loved one can access their medication. I want to be part of the process that allows us to have better-quality health care experiences for everyone in the country,” LaBelle said.

Learn more about Penn State’s master of public policy degree program.

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Last Updated September 22, 2021