Pelosi Scholars
Category: Featured News, News, Students

Title: “Not Only Possible, But Plausible”: Pelosi Scholars Work Toward Public Service Ambitions Through Internship Experiences

Author: Paul James
Date Published: October 4, 2021

Many students are drawn to SFS for the school’s focus on public service and the opportunities its Washington location holds for those looking to make a difference in the world. For Hoyas in the 2021 cohort of the Paul F. Pelosi Scholars Initiative in particular, serving others is at the core of their academic and extracurricular journeys.

“For me, public service is not just about giving back but also is a key part of my identity,” says Divjot Singh Bawa (SFS’23), a member of this year’s cohort.

Bawa is one of ten students in the program, which offers mentorship and support to SFS students committed to public service careers. Scholars are selected based on their outstanding academic performance, professional and leadership experience and demonstrated commitment to helping others. 

Compound image. On right, Nancy Pelosi speaks at a podium in Georgetown's Gaston Hall. SFS 100 banners are behind her. On left, Paul Pelosi speaks at a podium in a conference hall. The Georgetown seal is on a screen behind him.
Paul (SFS’62, P’88, P’89, P’91, P’95) and Nancy Pelosi (H’02, P’88, P’89, P’91, P’95) helped to raise $1.6 million for the Paul F. Pelosi Scholars Initiative. Paul Pelosi serves as a member of the SFS board of advisors and, alongside his wife and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, has shared his insights and perspectives at Hilltop events. 

“Preparing future leaders who work for the common good is at the core of SFS mission,” Fr. Christian Wagner, S.J., who oversees the program, says. “Our generous benefactors make it possible that students can explore exciting career options with organizations where political, social and humanistic impact is most valued.”

Fr. Christian Wagner profile
Fr. Christian Wagner, S.J., oversees the initiative, which he says represents the “core of the SFS mission.”

The initiative offers tailored professional development training and mentorship to scholars, and connects them to professional opportunities and funding — including stipends to offset the cost of unpaid internships — to advance their career aspirations. 

The Pelosi Scholars Initiative is named for Paul (SFS’62, P’88, P’89, P’91, P’95) and Nancy Pelosi (H’02, P’88, P’89, P’91, P’95), who in 2018 led efforts to raise an additional $1.6 million for the program.

A cornerstone of the Pelosi experience is the successful completion of public service internships, and many of the current cohort spent their summers gaining valuable training in government institutions, nonprofit organizations and research centers. Now, as they begin a new school year, the scholars are reflecting on what their internships taught them and how they can build on their experiences to advance causes they are passionate about.

Values-Led International Service

Anya Wahal profile.
Anya Wahal (SFS’23) gained important experience in climate advocacy through her internship.

Anya Wahal (SFS’23) was able to gain experience in her dream career field through her internship. She spent her summer working at the World Wildlife Fund’s Science-Based Targets Initiative, which helps private companies set scientifically sound emission reduction targets.

“International relations continues to be dominated by unequal power structures,” says Wahal. “I want to work toward a world that is climate positive, abundant with resources and safe for all.”

Her interest in the potential to use data for public good was piqued on her very first day at Georgetown, when Professor Rajesh Veeraraghavan discussed the applications of data and algorithms to real-world global issues in his Politics of Data class.  “Professor Veeraraghavan taught me that data and algorithms are everywhere and that, as students, we could learn to apply them to real world, international settings,” Wahal explains.

Zulekha Tasneem profile
Zulekha Tasneem (SFS’23) used her internship with the Global Health Technologies Coalition to learn more about careers in global public health.

The Pelosi Scholars Initiative also supported Zulekha Tasneem (SFS’23) to gain vital experience in public health, a field that she has dedicated herself to through her studies as a Science, Technology and International Affairs (STIA) major. Her summer internship with the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) helped her to get real-world insights into public policy analysis, working within a member organization, conducting research and improving government relations. 

Additionally, Tasneem says the internship enabled her to develop an understanding of how to embody her public service values within a professional career.

Public service to me is all about reflecting on the needs of society and doing my best to create a difference in people’s lives based on that reflection,” Tasneem says. “In the context of my internship experience, it means advocating for others, whether that is working with members of Congress or creating deliverables to increase awareness on issues related to global health.”

Screenshot of a Global Health Technologies Coalition blog authored by Tasneem.
As part of her work, Tasneem authored blogs about breakthroughs in public health policy and research. Photo:

Sharpening Professional Skills

“As a proud Sikh American, the concept of service and giving back — or seva in my faith — has always been an omnipresent inspiration, shaping my academic and personal interests,” says Bawa. 

Divjot Bawa profile
Divjot Singh Bawa (SFS’23) says that public service is fundamental to his experiences and beliefs as a Sikh American.

Like Tasneem, Bawa drew upon his STIA studies in his internship. He spent his summer interning at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’s Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation. There, he developed briefings on cybersecurity research and news, led department research efforts and had a chance to co-author and edit policy briefs with experts at the center.

The experience enabled Bawa to build up the skills and knowledge he will need to pursue a meaningful career after he graduates from SFS.

“I have realized firsthand the array of writing, research, communication and critical thinking skills that are required to succeed within a national security and foreign policy think tank,” he says.

What’s more, through the opportunity, he contributed to work that he believes will help build a better future. The Center seeks to promote prosperity in the U.S. by leveraging technological innovation, while also countering cyber threats.

“Its emphasis on interdisciplinary research in formulating leading technological, governance and policy solutions was incredibly appealing,” Bawa says. “It’s an overarching approach that I strongly believe is needed to confront today’s digital threats undermining American national security.”

Overcoming Challenges with Initiative Support

For college students across the country, finding and completing internships has been a more challenging task over the past two years as the COVID-19 pandemic constrains travel and offerings from employers. However, the students say that the initiative helped them to find valuable opportunities, despite the upheaval.

Atharv Gupta profile
Without the Pelosi Initiatitve’s stipend, Atharv Gupta (SFS’23) says he would not have been able to take up an unpaid internship with the U.S. State Department this summer.

“Especially in the midst of the pandemic, the Pelosi Scholars program was very influential in helping me to obtain this internship opportunity, serving as a robust community for professional development, networking and mentorship,” Bawa says.

Even in non-pandemic years, many students can face challenges in participating in their top-choice internships, especially if they are unpaid and require students to front their living, travel and other expenses on their own. The Pelosi Scholars Initiative has been helping students surmount this hurdle, too, through its unpaid internship stipend, which awards up to $4,500 to cover students’ costs for the summer.

“The stipend allowed me to accept this unpaid internship,” says Atharv Gupta (SFS’23), who took up a position in the State Department’s Office of West African Affairs. “Through it, I met several like-minded and bright students who are also passionate about public service.”

The Georgetown support network not only helped Gupta overcome the financial obstacles in his way, but enabled him to stand out from the crowd during the application process. 

“I actually got the internship in part thanks to a research paper I wrote for one of my classes in the SFS,” Gupta notes. His final paper in Professor Cynthia Wei’s Examining Crises Through Science course focused on drought in the Sahel region. “I discussed my paper at length with my interviewer, who was a desk officer focusing on the Sahel!”

Gupta poses in front of the U.S. State Department building.
Gupta says his internship with the State Department’s Office of West African Affairs enabled him to connect with likeminded peers who were also passionate about public service.

Training for a Career of Service to Others

Ultimately, the students say that their summer internships solidified their ambitions to become public servants.

“My biggest professional goal is to serve others through my work, which is the basis of public service,” Gupta says. “The experience reaffirmed my interest in a future career at the State Department, potentially as a foreign service officer. I got to work with dozens of other officers, learn about their day-to-day schedules and contribute to real U.S. foreign policy in the region.”

For Wahal, her internship experience proved that her dream to become a global leader in international sustainable development was within her reach. 

“Through financial, peer and career support, the program has encouraged me to believe that such a career is not only possible, but plausible,” she says.