New Internship with Board of Aldermen Gives Students Behind-the-Scenes Policy Experience

Community Engagement; Policy; Students

An internship with the St. Louis Board of Aldermen is the newest opportunity for Brown School social work, public health, and social policy students. Developed in partnership with the Office of Field Education and the Masters of Social Policy (MSP) program, the Board offers students real-world experience in the art of local policymaking.

“This is my democracy at work,” said Kate Polokonis, a second-year MSW/MSP student specializing in policy and one of the first two students to intern with the Board. She’s helping analysts look into the possibility of establishing a city-run bank to provide banking services for underserved city residents.  

Another MSW/MSP student, Jodie Goodman, is researching the proposal to privatize Lambert St. Louis International Airport. In addition to their research, the student interns have attended Board of Aldermen meetings and had a personal meeting with St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson.

The internship was launched as a partnership between the MSP program; Office of Field Education; the 0ffice of Board President Lewis Reed; and Gerard Hollins, board financial analyst and an adjunct professor at Washington University.

The initial internship started in January and will run through May. In the future, part-time opportunities during the semester will feed into full-time opportunities the summer after students complete their MSP course work. The internships are available to non-MSP students as well.

“Opening this opportunity to all Brown School students is a great example of how social work, public health and social policy intersect and align in the classroom and a variety of settings, including City Hall,” said Dan Ferris, assistant dean for policy initiatives.

“Working with the Board of Aldermen gives Brown School students a unique opportunity to be part of the policymaking process here in St. Louis and gain experience that can be applied wherever their future careers may lead,” Ferris said.

Not only is the experience a good one for the students, it benefits a cash-strapped city, said Mary Ries, Reed’s legislative director.

“One of our biggest issues is a lack of resources,” she said.  “Brown School interns are an awesome addition to the Board. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

The Board passes more than 300 municipal laws per session and students will be able to work from a variety of policy areas, from gun laws to court reform. Ries said the Board will be flexible in the research preferences of students.  “If there’s a piece of legislation they’re particularly interested in, they can take a dive into it and create their own path.”

“It’s real life work. It’s information we need and use when we make large decisions,” Ries explained. “It’s going to make a difference. They’re working for the city at a transformative time; there’s a big spotlight on the city and they’re playing a big role.” 

For Polokonis, the internship hits home in other ways as well.  She grew up in the city, and her father ran for alderman when she was 4 years old.

“This is my home, it’s where I live,” she said.  “I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”