The University of Massachusetts Amherst

SPP Students Chosen for Inaugural Civic Action Project Fellowships

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Four UMass Amherst School of Public Policy students were selected for the inaugural group of fellows in the new Civic Action Project, or CAP, which provides internship experience, training, and mentoring for the next generation of public service leaders. 

Gabriel Adams-Keane, Sarah Nordberg, and Gina Vitale, all Master of Public Policy candidates at SPP, and Elizabeth Berman, who received her Master of Public Policy in May, are among the eight graduate students chosen as fellows in CAP’s first year. All the fellows come from University of Massachusetts public policy programs.

“To me, the CAP fellowship is really what a graduate-level internship should be,” said Satu Zoller, associate director of the School of Public Policy. “It provides students with paid, real-world work experience in their area of professional interest, valuable mentoring from a public sector leader, and the opportunity to meet and work on a research project with students from the other UMass public policy schools. I wish every student could have such an opportunity.”

The Civic Action Project was founded by former state senator George Bachrach; Steve Crosby, who served as secretary of administration and finance to Governor Paul Cellucci and founding chair of the Mass. Gaming Commission; Ira Jackson, who was Massachusetts commissioner of revenue; and Judith Young, an attorney with a background in social justice, consumer protection, and legislative policy making. 

“In a world in which ‘civic engagement’ is often reduced to partisan posturing and gridlock, extremist and non-compromising rhetoric, and in which civics education has largely gone the way of the Model T, new tools must be designed to teach leaders and citizens alike the mechanisms that make a representative democracy work,” the founders say in CAP’s mission statement. "A new generation of leaders … must learn the practical skills needed to access and influence the intersection between policy and politics, business and government, civic engagement versus antipathy. ” 

The Civic Action Project matches fellows with summer internships, where they gain real-world professional experience, and assigns each fellow a professional mentor. Three School of Public Policy students will work in the Massachusetts Legislature, with Adams-Keane interning with Senator Cindy Friedman, Nordberg with Representative Marjorie Decker, and Vitale with Senate President Karen Spilka. Berman will intern with SEIU 119, doing communications, survey, and legislative work for the labor union, which represents healthcare workers.

In addition, over the course of the summer, the fellows will attend weekly meetings that will include training sessions on policy-related skills, led by experienced policy practitioners, as well as talks by leaders from government, nonprofits, academia, and other policy-related sectors. Scheduled speakers include former Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis; state Representative Marjorie Decker; Steve Koczela, president of MassINC Polling; John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence; Renee Loth, former editorial page editor at the Boston Globe; Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins; Suffolk District Attorney (and UMass Amherst alumna) Rachel Rollins; and UMass system President and former Congressman Marty Meehan. The fellows will also work together on projects that draw on what they’ve learned in their internships and at their weekly meetings to tackle a major public challenge. 

“I applied to the CAP fellowship because it seemed like a great opportunity to learn about policy from experts in the field as well as my peers,” Nordberg said. “I am really looking forward to interning in the State House for Representative Decker and bringing the experience that I gain there to our classroom sessions.”

“I’m excited by the opportunity to gain real professional experience working with policymakers in the State House,” Adams-Keane said. “I will be working for my own state senator, Cindy Friedman, and hope to learn more about the legislative process and how elected officials work together to create effective policy.”

Photos: Clockwise from top left: Gabriel Adams-Keane, Elizabeth Berman, Gina Vitale, Sarah Nordberg. Photos by Dan Desrochers.

About the School of Public Policy: Established in 2016, the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy is a hub for research and teaching, preparing students for leadership in public service. The program’s focuses include social change and public policy related to science and technology.

— Maureen Turner, communications manager, School of Public Policy