UC Merced student Stephanie Maldonado was excited when she earned a slot in the University of California’s public service internship program in Washington, D.C., this fall — then came the financial reality check.
Maldonado, a third-year political science major from the San Fernando Valley, felt her anxiety subside this summer when she was awarded one of the first Presidential Public Service Fellowships from the University of California.
“When I applied for the program, I hadn’t really considered the cost,” Maldonado said. “I thought I would wing it.”
Two other UC Merced political science majors also received the $2,500 award: Roya Pourmand, a senior from San Bruno, and Ashley Jones, a senior from Los Banos.
Created in February by UC President Janet Napolitano, the fellowships are designed to inspire more undergraduate student interest in public service careers and ensure that cost isn’t a deterrent to opportunities.
The competitive fellowships are open to students accepted into either the UC Washington (UCDC) or UC Center Sacramento (UCCS) internship programs. The deadline to apply for the spring semester for UCDC is Sept. 30; the deadline for UCCS is Jan. 26.
Roughly 30 students from the UC’s nine undergraduate campuses were chosen as fellows based on financial need and commitment to public service and civic engagement. For example, all three UC Merced students have held leadership positions with the Associated Students, sororities or other groups, and have participated in a variety of community service projects.
Most internship costs are covered by tuition and fees. The fellowship helps provide for expenses such as travel or suitable business clothing.
“I know I wouldn’t be able to afford the program without the fellowship,” Maldonado said. She is spending much of the fall semester in Washington, D.C., as an intern in the office of Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks.
“It’s an opportunity to learn more, and to take what I have learned at UC Merced and put it into my daily life,” said Maldonado, who is considering law school after she graduates in 2018.
Rachel Seymour, a curriculum specialist in UC Merced’s Office of Undergraduate Education and campus coordinator of the UCDC program, said the fellowships are important to students who might struggle to make ends meet.
“These are high-achieving students who want to go into careers to help others and help society,” she said. “It’s a really great program to be part of.”
Both the Washington and Sacramento programs offer a full semester of academic credit for student internships, as well as weekly seminars and other elective activities. Internship opportunities range from positions with advocacy groups and lawmakers to the media and public agencies.
Myra Fernandez, the campus coordinator for the Sacramento program and a career specialist for the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts in the Center for Career & Professional Advancement, said internships help build confidence and future contacts for students.
“This gives them a better idea of what they want to do down the line — it helps shape their career paths,” she said.
Fellowship recipient Jones is participating in the Sacramento program. She is interested in law — specifically immigration and family law — and hopes to land an internship that allows her to explore those areas. The fellowship eased her financial concerns.
“It really alleviated the stress of worrying about how I’m going to pay for housing or food or books,” she said. “I’m very honored to have the fellowship and I’m happy that I get the experience of being in the program.”
Pourmand, who is spending the fall semester in Washington, D.C., has wanted to land an internship ever since hearing about the programs during a tour of UC Merced. The opportunity helped draw her to this campus.
Pourmand expects that the semester in the Capitol will influence her career path. She is interning with the National Iranian American Council, and her duties include attending hearings on Capitol Hill and working on an annual leadership conference.
The fellowship should help ensure her financial security for the semester. Pourmand said she’s been working for years to help pay for college but will need to devote those hours to her internship.
“This is the first long period of time that I’m not going to be working,” she said. “The fellowship allows me to have a safety net.”