SINSI Spotlight: A Common Thread — Believing in the Value of Public Service
True or false: Working for the federal government means living in Washington, D.C. and focusing on issues of diplomacy, foreign assistance, or defense.
The answer to both is “false”! All Princeton sophomores, juniors, and seniors (regardless of major), and first-year Master in Public Affairs (MPA) students can apply to be part of SINSI, which places motivated, high-achieving students in fully funded domestic and international internships and graduate fellowships, preparing them for careers in public service.
So, you can be a Woodrow Wilson major and you can work in D.C. on issues of diplomacy, foreign assistance, or defense. But, as a Princeton biology major turned public policy student who’s moving to Alaska for my last SINSI fellowship rotation, I’m here to highlight what others might consider “non-traditional” paths Princeton students of all backgrounds have taken to and through the SINSI program. Here, I spotlight SINSI graduate fellows Michael Lachanski ’15 ’20, Emily Chen ’17 ’21, and Kishan Bhatt ’17 ’21, as well as undergraduate SINSI interns Tylor Johnson ’19 and Mikaela Gerwin ’19. An open house for those interested in joining the 2019 SINSI cohort will be held in Robertson Hall on Monday, Oct. 8 at 5 p.m.
Michael Lachanski has actively sought out new ground for SINSI, working in offices or departments that have not previously hosted a SINSI scholar. An economics major, Lachanski has spent his SINSI years working at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, International Affairs’ Office of Banking and Securities Markets; the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration; the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration; and the Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau. He applied to SINSI because he was interested in a career that combines academia, government, and entrepreneurship. “SINSI, which offered placement in a variety of innovative policy shops combined with admission to a top public policy graduate school, had natural appeal,” Lachanski says. In his fellowship experiences, he’s been most impressed with agencies’ forward-looking approach to data analytics. He’ll return to Princeton in fall 2019 to complete his MPA.
Emily Chen has an engineering background. In her first SINSI fellowship rotation at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Denver, Colorado, she has utilized both her Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and Woodrow Wilson School perspectives to analyze energy markets and strategic energy policy. In our interview, she noted that she had expected to engage primarily in energy and climate policy — her areas of interest — while in the SINSI program. Instead, her first year at the Woo challenged her with policy issues ranging from gun rights to data security. She believes the breadth and depth of experience she’ll gain through two years of graduate study and two years of fellowship will help her to “better serve the public’s interest.” This commitment to public service binds together the SINSI community. Chen will rotate through federal fellowship positions for two years before returning to Princeton in fall 2020 to complete her MPA degree.
Kishan Bhatt currently works on emerging biotechnology policy within the Office of the Director at the National Institutes of Health. In this first fellowship rotation, he’s been able to both learn from and contribute to high-level policy discussions, drawing on his undergraduate studies in Princeton’s Global Health Program, Program in American Studies, and the Woodrow Wilson School, and his graduate focus on economics/statistics. He, too, emphasized the value of an interdisciplinary background and the importance of cross-cutting skills for effective science policy: He explained that “in an age of boundless innovation and creativity, policymakers need enough fluency in scientific fields to assess the economic, social, and security takeaways.” Bhatt will rotate through federal fellowship positions for two years before returning to Princeton in fall 2020 to complete his MPA degree.
The SINSI program is more than just a graduate community; undergraduate interns have used SINSI to explore their niches through incredible opportunities all around the policy sphere. Tylor Johnson recently completed her SINSI internship with the Department of Education, where she worked in both the Office of Civil Rights and the Office of Innovation and Improvement, helping to translate education and civil rights law into policy recommendations to help K-12 magnet schools address minority group isolation. For her, SINSI was an “amazing opportunity to see how my sociological understandings of race could inform a career in federal service.” She described the SINSI community — multi-faceted in policy interests and passionate about public service — as a source of inspiration and support as she returns to Princeton this fall to complete her bachelor of arts degree in sociology.
Another SINSI intern, Mikaela Gerwin, is a history major who spent her summer at the Department of Health and Human Service’s Family Violence Prevention Services Act (FVPSA) Program. Through SINSI, she says, “I learned so much about the federal government and the public servants that keep this country running.” She spent her weeks in D.C. exploring a myriad of issues related to domestic violence, with day-to-day activities ranging from a Congressional briefing and interagency meetings to a literature review on dentist-specific resources for identifying domestic violence. Gerwin also enjoyed a trip to Alaska to learn about and evaluate the work of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center. She appreciates her SINSI experience for the insight it’s given her into future professional and personal paths.
The six of us highlight some of the many backgrounds, interests, and experiences within the SINSI community. In all, we show that public service takes many forms. Whatever your passion, if you believe in the value of public service, you’re welcome here. For more information about SINSI, go here.
Article author Alex Wheatley ’16 ’20 majored in ecology and evolutionary biology. She’ll return to Princeton in the fall of 2020 with gratitude and (maybe) wisdom gained through three geographically and conceptually diverse fellowship rotations — epidemiology at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, health diplomacy at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Global Affairs in D.C., and Alaska Native health care at HHS’ Indian Health Service office in Anchorage.