Public Affairs (LBJ School) Pre Grad Intern Lauren Ayers

Lauren AyersThe IE pre-graduate internship program gives students unique opportunities to sample graduate school. Due to this program, undergraduates including myself learn about master and doctoral programs so that they can make an educated decision about their future. Under the guidance of my mentor Erin Boeke Burke, I learned about the application process itself and the GRE, but more importantly I experienced the day to day reality of the LBJ School in the areas of graduate research, professional development and class dynamics. Most significantly the IE internship allowed me to become an unofficial graduate student; I was able to slip into classes and informal lunch sessions as a de facto student of sorts. In this mode, I gained a behind-the-scenes, indispensable experience.

Prior to my first year in college, I was not acquainted with the Public Affairs School. However, after traveling to India with LBJ professor Dr. David Eaton, a water-policy specialist, and a handful of LBJ graduates, I discovered another realm of possibility for post graduate study. These students' devotion to human rights, environmental issues, and international awareness piqued my interest. I wondered "what is this school they speak so highly of?" Eventually, I came to know.

With LBJ in the back of my mind, I finished my second year of college. I was then feeling more pressure about my future. I've always been a thoughtful decision maker. Because of this, I only take action when I fully understand my motivation. For example, only after taking a rigorous history program and uncovering my interest and passion for history, did I change my undeclared major to history. The Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate Internship gave me the tools to explore Public Affairs School.

During the past three months, I've sat in on Dr. Lawrence Graham's Regionalism, Conflict, and Intergovernmental Relations class. Also, I attended informal "Brown Bag" lunch lectures, aided a non-profit agency in writing a persuasive and educational handbook on photovoltaic panels, wrote a literature review on distributed generation and compiled data on state-by-state renewable energy policies.

My experiences in the IE internship have inspired and excited me about academia, governmental and non-profit work. During a lunch lecture, former Dean Max Sherman spoke passionately about the achievements of LBJ's own Barbara Jordan. Quoting her most famous speech, Dean Sherman reminded everyone that "if we promise, we must deliver. If we propose, we must produce. If we ask for a sacrifice, we must be the first to give. If we make mistakes, we must be willing to admit them." After sessions like these, I realized that the work at the Public Affairs school stretches beyond the city limits of Austin. Graduates and faculty members truly change the world. They write policy, manage non-profit agencies, provide the research for major legislation, and consult with both the private and public sectors. I have realized my motivation for attending public affairs graduate school. Excuse the clich, but I want to make the world a better place.

My IE internship culminated in a four-day environmental conference in New Orleans. With the generous support of the IE travel grant, Erin and I attended Brownfields, an annual convention showcasing and encouraging redevelopment in vacant or underutilized areas. It was appropriately based in New Orleans, which after numerous redevelopment projects has resulted in mixed land use plots and mixed-income residencies in Hurricane damaged areas. The conference enabled me to utilize everything I had learned from LBJ. My knowledge of distributed generation, power policies, renewable energy, and sustainable development allowed me to view each educational speaker critically and engage in conversations about public policy. The most important feature of Brownfield was the emphasis on the human side of development. Those who suffer the most from environmental degradation are poor communities and most often communities of color. It's these people that I want to help and by pursuing a higher degree in public policy I will get the tools to help these communities that suffer.

The IE program has solidified my future goals. Formal and informal interviews with LBJ students and faculty have persuaded me to gain professional experience and reevaluate my life before pursuing my graduate degree. If I am fortunate enough, I want to join the Peace Corps for a two-year service. Afterwards, this experience will either confirm my current feelings about public affairs school or allow me to continue in a different direction. Furthermore, during these past three months, I've realized an academic passion for environmental studies. In the future, I plan on taking more environmental courses, and will potentially writing my thesis on environmental history. Because of the IE program, I've gained greater confidence in myself, pinpointed my motives for pursuing graduate school, and feel more certain about my goals.