In August of 2017, I was fortunate to be offered my dream job as Director of the Office of Graduate Intern Programs in the Center for State Policy and Leadership at UIS. Having worked in state government for over 30 years, I thought I had a good idea of how the Graduate Public Service Internship Program developed young professionals and prepared them for future service and I certainly knew the program from being a state agency leader that embraced the concept of experiential learning. However, seeing both sides of the equation has given me a unique perspective into the obvious and intangible benefits of this unique and successful program. A concept that was first launched in 1974, the GPSI program has exposed thousands of graduate students to public sector careers and added economic value to Springfield and surrounding communities as students graduate and accept fulltime opportunities in all areas of government and nonprofit agencies.
Building on the success of my most recent predecessors Rance Carpenter and Kim Hayden, the GPSI program currently has 230 graduate student interns enrolled for fall 2022 with placements throughout Illinois state government, the City of Springfield and almost a dozen nonprofit entities. Because of the flexibility of the program, the location of UIS in the capital city and the participation of our many host agencies, graduate students in all but two UIS programs are working remotely and in offices from Springfield to Bloomington to Chicago and Assumption. These students are all gaining priceless professional experience that will help them to be more competitive in the job market upon graduation. Most importantly, they are obtaining a graduate degree without taking on a mountain of debt in the process. The GPSI program covers 24 hours of tuition each year and pays a monthly salary for the entirety of the program which means the student is really “earning” the graduate degree. Most people are astonished to find out that the program provides so much financial support while simultaneously nurturing the professional development and education of the participants.
Another unique aspect of the GPSI program is that so many former interns are now government employees and supervisors in the program that helped launch their career path. Imbedded throughout state government, UIS, and nonprofit agencies, are many, many former interns who are now managers and leaders in their respective organizations who exemplify the spirit of “Leadership Lived.” Their time at UIS gave them both an education and exposure to the possibilities of a public service career and they are eager to help train and retain a new generation of public service professionals. They are quick to credit UIS and the GPSI program for paving the way toward a fulfilling career dedicated to helping and improving the lives of others.
In 2019, using the infrastructure of the GPSI program and together with Associate Dean Dr. Travis Bland, Director of the Doctoral Program in Public Administration (DPA), we developed a fellowship program for doctoral students. DPA Fellows are matched and placed in higher level policy positions in government and nonprofit agencies further developing high-level analytical and management skills and conducting research to meet the ever-changing needs of public administration. To date, 6 fellows have received placements with more opportunities for future cohorts. The DPA Fellowship is yet another way for UIS and its’ partners to attract highly qualified students to Springfield and to make UIS a premier destination for graduate and doctoral students in public administration.
At the end of this month, I will be leaving my position as Director, Office of Graduate Intern Programs at UIS. As I reflect over the past 5 years, I could not have predicted the events that would occur to change the course of all of our lives or how we would even begin to manage through a pandemic. But together with a small but mighty team at UIS and a very dedicated group of state agency and nonprofit supervisors, we managed to grow and thrive despite the public health challenges that we are still navigating today. I have been most grateful for the opportunity to work with students in the Graduate Public Service Internship Program as they simultaneously pursue their graduate degree and work to discover a possible future career in public service. For me, the most remarkable part of my work has been to witness the metamorphosis of a first-year graduate student into a public service professional in the two years it takes to earn most UIS graduate degrees. I have had many students tell me that the GPSI program has “changed their lives” and given them direction and focus. It has been most humbling and inspirational to know that the work we are doing is helping to shape careers dedicated to serving the needs of the public and providing all levels of government with qualified and dedicated public service professionals.
I will always be a strong supporter and recruiter for the GPSI program and I hope you will join me in encouraging those seeking a graduate degree to consider UIS first.
In public service,
Following a 32-year career in Illinois state government, Sherrie Elzinga has been the Director of Graduate Intern Programs at UIS since 2017.