COLA Connections Newsletter: Winter 2017

Student Spotlight: Natalia Dempsey-- An internship at the NYS Assembly

Experiential learning, which encompasses things such as research and study abroad, co-ops and internships, is an important part of every student’s education at RIT.  The opportunity to “learn-through-doing” allows for practical experience, networking with professionals, and a way for students to gain new perspective on issues in their field. 

Natalia Dempsey, a Public Policy and Criminal Justice double major, saw the value in completing an internship and applied for the prestigious New York State Assembly internship program. A very competitive process, Natalia was one of only 150 students accepted for the program out of applicants from all over the country.  Part internship, part coursework and part research, Natalia served under Assemblyman Al Stripe Jr. from the 127th District in the Syracuse area.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m from Onondaga, which is a small town outside of Syracuse. I actually started off studying Geology at SUNY Geneseo before I transferred to RIT. I started out in an Engineering program, but after meeting with the previous Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice (and current Associate Dean), LaVerne McQuiller Williams, I decided I really wanted to study Criminal Justice. Also, a couple years ago I participated in an Alternative Spring Break trip with the Department of Public Policy. We stayed in D.C. for the whole week and got to visit a ton of agencies and think tanks, and I liked that a lot. So now I am a double major in Criminal Justice and Public Policy!

So how did this internship come about?

The Department of Criminal Justice has a Field Experience requirement, although Public Policy does not.  Still, I thought the internship program would be a good fit for both programs.  I worked with Dr. Sandra Rothenberg from the Department of Public Policy to fill out the application. I had some other professors from the Department of Criminal Justice write my letters of recommendation.

At first I was apprehensive about applying, but I spoke to my professor Joe Williams, who worked at the State Assembly, and he encouraged me to apply. So I applied and I found out that I got in around Thanksgiving of last year.

What was your role and who did you work for?

Each Intern is assigned to work directly with an Assemblyman. I was assigned Al Stipe Jr. of the 127th Assembly District, which was pretty cool because it’s near Syracuse and close to where I live.  At the beginning of the internship, I did things like answering the phone and getting the mail and running errands. But eventually, the work grew and I was scheduling appointments, sending out important emails, and sometimes even running meetings when the Assemblyman was in session. The program was really great because I got to meet a ton of different people and learn about a lot of issues that I am passionate about.

I also got hired on for an additional six weeks over the summer when an unexpected opening came up. The Assemblyman usually hosts a big blood drive in his district every year and I was able to help organize that, which allowed me to work directly with constituents. I really enjoyed that experience. 

What did you learn working at the NYS Assembly?        

Apart from working directly with an Assemblyman, the internship also had an academic side to it. Class was held every Thursday with assigned readings, and about twice a month, we’d have to stay after work for guest lectures from people such as Thomas DiNapoli, the NYS Comptroller, Elizabeth Benjamin, a journalist on Time Warner News, Kathy Sheehan, the mayor of Albany, and Carl Heastie, the Speaker of the NYS Assembly.

We also had the opportunity to host mock meetings in the Assembly chambers, where we simulated Committee meetings to push bills through. That experience really solidified my understanding of how bills are discussed and voted on in New York.

What were your biggest achievements at the internship?

As part of the internship, we had to complete a 15-20 page research paper. Interns had to choose a bill that was popular that year, so I did mine on paid family leave. It’s a topic that affects a lot of New Yorkers in a lot of different ways. Well, at the end of the program, the Assembly recognizes all the interns who excelled in different areas.  Out of the 150 research projects, mine was one of the eight selected as a top example, so I received an award for my work.  My project will be published and shared with next year’s interns, which I think is really cool.

What advice do you have for other students who are thinking about applying to competitive internships and co-ops?

In general, try to apply any relevant previous experiences you’ve had and highlight them on your application.  For an internship like this, having past political experience was beneficial.   I would also say to think very carefully about any writing portion that you’ll need to submit.  Being a good writer and communicator is crucial for many internships, so make sure you’re submitting an essay that’s your best work, making it very clear what you want to achieve in the program, as well as what you can bring to the table in terms of your skills.  This will allow the people who review the application to understand your abilities and motivations. It is also important to build relationships with your professors because you will need recommendations.  Don’t be afraid to ask!