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Learning What Makes Local Governments Tick, Here and Abroad

Initiative on Cities put three student fellows in public service this summer

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Boston University BU, Initiative on Cities IoC, Mayor Thomas Menino student fellow, Hannah Carey, Chelsea Desrochers, Cortney Tunis

Hannah Carey (SPH'15) worked in an Oregon health department through the Initiative on Cities. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

How did you spend your summer? Hannah Carey assisted in a trial of a new medication for treating gonorrhea, interviewing subjects and taking their vital information, among other tasks. (She also made some dinner companions squirm when they asked about her work.) Chelsea Desrochers attended town meetings in the Dominican Republic’s capital, listening to citizens’ opinions on all sorts of matters.

Carey (SPH’15), Desrochers (SPH’15), and Cortney Tunis (GSM’15), all fellows at BU’s Initiative on Cities (IoC), spent their summer learning how local governments serve, or fail to serve, their constituents. Desrochers and Tunis worked in the municipal governments of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Boston, respectively. Carey interned in the Multnomah County Health Department in Portland, Ore., researching infectious diseases, and in particular, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

The trio found the positions through summer fellowships sponsored by the IoC, the purpose of which is to advance local governance. More than a dozen graduate students, “all terrific applicants,” sought the fellowships, says Katharine Lusk, IoC executive director. “We were delighted to have such great representation from across the University in our inaugural year.” Fellows received a $5,000 stipend.

Boston University BU, Initiative on Cities IoC, Mayor Thomas Menino student fellow, Hannah Carey, Chelsea Desrochers, Cortney Tunis

Chelsea Desrochers (SPH’15) interned in the Dominican Republic. Photo by Cydney Scott

For Desrochers, attending town meetings to hear residents’ opinions in a developing nation was an eye-opener on several fronts. “There are many services that need to be improved, since I was working in a developing nation,” she says. If she could suggest one improvement the Santo Domingo authorities could undertake, she says, “it would be to develop some type of evaluation of the employees…for them to want to work hard and be more passionate and enthusiastic about their jobs.”

As a fellow in the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, Tunis helped pilot creative programs to improve city services. She became interested in such projects after working with IBM’s Smarter Cities program, which gathers data to improve the quality of life in cities where IBM employees live. Her IBM experience, Tunis says, sired a desire for “a deeper understanding of how cities operate, and contributing to that process.”

For Carey, the county health department work introduced her to at-risk groups—for example, black women suffer higher incidence of gonorrhea than other populations. She also learned how skittish nonprofessionals are about STDS. “I was asked about my internship at a dinner table full of people I had just met,” she recalls, “and was met with fidgety, quick changes of topic.”

Boston University BU, Initiative on Cities IoC, Mayor Thomas Menino student fellow, Hannah Carey, Chelsea Desrochers, Cortney Tunis

Cortney Tunis (GSM’15) interned in Boston. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

The drug trial work was especially rewarding, she says, because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has flagged gonorrhea’s growing resistance to drugs.

The students all said that their up-close look at local government was a fulfilling way to spend their summer. The developing world internship in particular would benefit students interested in international affairs, says Desrochers. And Carey’s county coworkers, she says, were an inspiration.

The fellowships are an effort to counter what the IoC believes is a negative view of public service. “The press likes to highlight the talent shortage in government and how few young people are being drawn to the federal government today,” Lusk says. “We believe that direct exposure to a level of government that still works—and where people still work together—will inspire them to pursue it as a career option.”

The IoC expects to offer the fellowships again next summer, she says.

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Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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