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Course on Internships Offers Real-World Experience

royerAcross the country, colleges and universities are facing the “Is it worth it?” question: whether the cost of higher education is a sound investment, given the belief that students are not prepared to find jobs after they graduate, particularly those who studied humanities and liberal arts.

One course in the Political Science Department is trying to bridge that gap, by linking academic study and real-world career experience. Called “Political Internship,” the course includes seminars and research on the history and development of internships in the nation’s political system, and also encourages students to obtain and report back on their own internships.

“The students learn how the system really works and the impact on civil society,” said Xandra Kayden, a lecturer in the department and the professor of the internship course. Kayden said the students also get a sense of the social justice dimension to local politics by seeing how people’s lives are affected.

This semester, the four-credit class had 20 students obtain internships, three of them at Los Angeles City Hall. But landing an internship is not a requirement for passing the course; much attention is paid to the preparation and process of finding internships. The students can then apply those skills at the beginning of their careers. 

David Howard, who graduated from LMU in May and plans to begin law school in the fall at the University of Texas, said he got a lot out of the course. “We discussed many different key issues related to politics and the community,” said Howard, including the influence of political parties and varying demographics in the United States. 

He interned with Law Offices of Julia Sylva in downtown Los Angeles, where his main project was working with the startup of a nonprofit organization, PermHousing Inc., which deals with low- and moderate-income housing issues in Los Angeles County. “I also had the opportunity to work with legal cases, specifically in court research and case briefings,” Howard said.  “As I am going into law, this was greatly helpful.”  

Kayden is well suited to guide the students through the political internship process. Her long career in politics includes stints as president of the League of Women Voters in Los Angeles; co-chairing the Muslim/Jewish Dialogue in L.A.; working as director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Commission for the Los Angeles Unified School District; and ran the women’s part of the McGovern campaign for president in 1972.

Her books include “Campaign Organization,” “The Party Goes On: The Persistence of the Two-Party System in the United States,” and “Surviving Power: The Experience of Power - Exercising It and Giving It Up.” She holds a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard, and did post-doctoral work at Stanford on organizational behavior.