This is the sixth entry in our recap of summer internships completed by SIPA students working in the Admissions Office this year. Carrie Dorn is a dual degree student pursuing her Masters in Public Administration and Social Work. This is her third year at Columbia University and she is focusing her studies at SIPA in the Management and Urban/Social Policy tracks.
My summer interning in New York City unexpectedly turned into my own exploration of the city, social policy and my future career goals. I knew that summer in NYC would include sticky weather and suffocating subway stations, but also the fun of sidewalk cafes, free outdoor movies and festivals galore. While many SIPA students started packing their bags for summer internships and vacations abroad in May, I buckled down and focused on my search for a NYC government internship– an inevitably slow process, that had started months before. At what felt like the last possible moment, I was interviewing for a few internship positions at three different agencies. At last, in the midst of final exams, I secured a position working at the New York City Department of Homeless Services assisting the Director of Executive Projects and Operations.
Luckily, I was very familiar with the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS). In my Urban Politics course I had analyzed the agency’s funding sources, policy initiatives, and budget allocations in a 30 page paper. From an outside, academic perspective, I had my own thoughts and recommendations about how DHS could improve their programs and functioning. Little did I know that I would get the opportunity to contribute to the change process myself.
In my internship I was able to see the whole spectrum of programming at DHS. At first I was assigned some of the intern tasks that I had anticipated such as compiling data and proofreading reports. One day out of the week I traded the commute to Wall St. to venture up to the Bronx, at the central intake office for homeless families called Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH). There I saw the challenges of managing a 24-7 operation where more than 100 families each day come to request emergency shelter. I studied up on the legal shelter eligibility guidelines and counseled homeless and at-risk families via the PATH hotline to best direct them to community resources.
I also assisted with preparations for the second year of Advantage Academy, a joint program between DHS and St. John’s University, that offers a fully subsidized Associate Degree to those in the NYC shelter system. I had the chance to welcome the new student cohort and brainstorm how to improve retention rates, student outcomes and support systems.
Then, the internship blossomed into something bigger for me when I had the opportunity to sit in on meetings about the functionality and design of a case management system that is advancing the way that DHS operates and interfaces with other agencies. I learned about implementation of this system, from stakeholder collaboration to the logistics of training employees. In meetings, the voices of my professors would sometimes echo in my head as I watched how the concepts of organizational culture, regulation, federalism and accountability unfolded in real time.
I couldn’t have anticipated a better summer experience, becoming familiar with the process and challenges of city government. My internship at DHS confirmed my interest in wanting to administer and develop social programs in the future and it also sparked my appetite for more knowledge about how to effectively run organizations. By the end of August, I had scrapped my plans to take fun electives and instead signed up for cost-benefit analysis, human resource management and law for non-profit managers. Now that the summer months have quickly transitioned into the school year, sometimes I do imagine the type of “field work” I that could have accomplished in some exotic beach locale, but all in all it was very rewarding to have braved city life in an NYC summer .