Being There

Increasingly, undergraduates are discovering that the way to deepen their education is to dive into workplaces, projects, and other immersive experiences.

Special Series: Undergrads at Maxwell!
Taking stock of the Maxwell experience for those pursuing a bachelor's degree

Morgan Eaton first got involved in efforts to combat the opioid epidemic during high school in Vermont. Following the death of an extended family member that he felt could have been prevented with commonsense policies, Eaton wrote a letter to his senator calling for prescription medication reform—and he was invited to serve as a youth representative with a state opioid task force.

Now, as a sophomore at Maxwell majoring in policy studies and citizenship and civic engagement, Eaton has the chance to get directly involved with health policy. In Syracuse, he’s interning with the Onondaga County Health Department, working with health program coordinator (and Maxwell grad) Mariah Senecal-Reilly ’14 MPA. “I have been incredibly lucky,” says Eaton, “to assist Mariah in executing numerous high-impact programs that address community mental health and substance use issues from a public health perspective.”

This work “allows me to put into practice everything I’ve learned in my four years here and apply it in real life, with real organizations trying to make real change.”

For many Maxwell undergraduates, learning experiences extend far beyond the classroom and the Syracuse University hill—through internships and volunteer projects in the Syracuse community, as well as chances to work and study in other cities and abroad. The School is actively expanding these kinds of opportunities. The goal, says Maxwell Dean David Van Slyke, is “to create a vibrant student learning experience that not only teaches students analytical skills from a broad perspective, but also provides experiential opportunities to test those skills.”

Maxwell’s pioneer of experiential and applied learning is the policy studies major, an undergraduate degree that prepares students who are exploring careers in the public and nonprofit sectors. “The policy studies major is about skills,” says program director Bill Coplin, “and I view it as an undergraduate professional program.” Since the program’s inception in 1978, its students have worked in hundreds of nonprofit and government agencies, gaining both academic credit and real on-the-job experience.

Morgan Eaton
Morgan Eaton at the county health department, with supervisor Mariah Senecal-Reilly ’14 MPA.

This type of community work is also integral to the citizenship and civic engagement major, a more recent addition to Maxwell’s undergraduate programming. Starting in their second year, students work with a range of Syracuse community partners, from nonprofit and governmental organizations to elected officials’ offices, private companies, and foundations.

For instance, Lia Chabot, who also majors in economics, is currently analyzing census data with the City of Syracuse, where she works with two Maxwell graduates now employed as city planners.

Outside of Maxwell’s programs devoted to policy and civic engagement are numerous opportunities through other Maxwell majors to get involved with the Syracuse community. The political science department, for example, offers an upper-division internship course every semester led by Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute. Students spend the bulk of their time for the course in local internships ranging from the district attorney’s office to legislative, judicial, activist, and campaign offices, and reflect on their experiences through class discussions and in writing.

Undergraduates interested in community development and urban planning can also find internship opportunities through the geography department’s unique Community Geography program, which helps local organizations collect, interpret, and use geographic data to create positive change. Inspired by his courses with community geography director Jonnell Robinson, geography/CCE major P.J. Triolo is involved in his senior year with a variety of community mapping projects, such as mapping safe routes to school, home ownership, and crime locations. This work, he says, “allows me to put into practice everything I’ve learned in my four years here and apply it in real life, with real organizations trying to make real change.”

Leo Duke
Leo Duke in Washington, DC

Beyond Syracuse, Maxwell students find a range of opportunities for experiential learning. Juniors and seniors interested in legislative politics can spend a semester in Albany in paid internships with the New York State Assembly. The Maxwell-in-Washington program welcomes about 30 undergraduates each year for a semester-long immersion in governance, foreign policy, and international affairs, in which they spend three or four days a week at internships. Political science major Leo Duke, for instance, spent the fall semester as an intern with Pennsylvania Congressman Dwight Evans.

“Congressman Evans is someone I’ve respected for a long time for his work in Philly,” says Duke. “I’m currently working on a research project on the nuclear power industry and how it impacts Pennsylvanians.” About half of Maxwell students study abroad, and in addition to the cultural immersion and course experiences, a number of the programs around the globe offer internships. In particular, internships abound at SU Abroad’s program in Strasbourg, France, taking advantage of the city’s central role in European and global affairs and the presence of such organizations as the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament. Not surprisingly, Strasbourg is a popular destination for international relations majors.

Studying abroad can enrich any course of study at Maxwell, as anthropology major Aren Burnside learned during a traveling semester in 2018 in Central and Eastern Europe, in which his classes and firsthand experiences illuminated historical epochs such as the Holocaust and communist rule.

“I wholeheartedly believe my journey to Europe has made me a better student,” he says. “I study political violence. For six months, I traveled a part of the world that was ravaged by political violence, and looked not only at that violence but its past and present ramifications. I think that this allowed me to grasp concepts that I had found hazy before and start to make my own connections and understandings.”

By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

This article appeared in the fall 2019 print edition of Maxwell Perspective © Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail dlcooke@maxwell.syr.edu.