PAC premieres internship fair: Students network for government positions

On Wednesday, Nov. 6 in the Lion’s Pause, the Political Awareness Committee PAC held its first Government Internships Fair.

At least 60 students attended the event, where they networked with liaisons from political offices and organizations at the local, state and federal levels. Also among the attendees were U.S. Congress candidate Mike Obermueller from MN-02 and Rep. David Bly D-Northfield.

PAC modeled the event after Ole Biz and Ole Med. These feature sessions of mingling and informal networking were punctuated by “pop-up” speakers who gave short speeches summarizing their specific careers and fields.

PAC Coordinator Rachel Palermo ’15 found inspiration for the fair over the summer while interning for the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.

“I got there and my first thought was, ‘Why aren’t there more Oles here taking advantage of all these internships?'” Palermo said. “We’re well-qualified. They’re the kind of positions we’re interested in.”

Will Lutterman ’14, PAC Special Events Coordinator, had the idea to bring in local and state-level organizations for those unable to travel all the way to D.C. He and other PAC members reached out to organizations, networked with alumni and drew on their own professional connections to compile the invitation list.

“This was the first time there’s ever been a student-run career event,” Lutterman said.

Participating organizations included the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. and Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives, the Minnesota DFL, the Minnesota Green Party, the Office of Governor Mark Dayton, the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the Northfield City Council, Obermueller for Congress and Holiday Co.

According to Lutterman and Palermo, the fair offered an excellent opportunity for Oles interested in the public sector to get a leg up in locating otherwise difficult-to-find internships.

“A lot of these opportunities are never posted. They’re informal and relationship-based,” Lutterman said. “You have to know the right people.”

Palermo described the event as well-rounded. One pop-up speaker spoke about working in government relations for a private company and the lobbying field, offering information to attendees interested in the private sector.

Students were able to speak face-to-face with liaisons and internship coordinators who might have hundreds of applications to sift through. Though they do not have specific numbers, Palermo and Lutterman said some students learned of positions and turned in applications as a result of the event.

“It was encouraging to see those connections being made,” Palermo said.

Event organizers opted to keep the event on campus rather than bus students to the Cities as Ole Biz and Ole Med do. This kept the event informal, and Palermo hopes attendees walked away feeling more comfortable networking in a variety of professional settings.

The organizing that went into the event, Palermo said, was a rewarding process.

“All it takes is a few people to say ‘We’re going to do this,’ and then start planning,” Palermo said.

Palermo emphasized her hope that the event would encourage more St. Olaf students to apply for those prestigious and seemingly unattainable internships. The internship fair was a stepping stone toward that goal.

By bringing representatives from these prestigious offices together, “We took these highly selective positions and made them manageable for Oles,” Lutterman added.

Given its success, PAC hopes to make the internship fair an annual event.

“We hope people do this in the future, too. We don’t have the resources the Piper Center does, but for everyone who came it was a very valuable experience,” Lutterman said.