LBJ School of Public Affairs Pre-Grad Intern Shabab Siddiqui
The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. The two parts of the name form a formidable duo. First is the name of the country's 36th president who was born and raised about fifty miles from the campus, whose wife graduated from the University. Though many will forever judge his legacy in the purview of the Vietnam War, it is his improbable rise to the world's highest office and the effectiveness with which he dominated the Congress that will inspire generations. Second are the words, "public affairs." To an outsider, the words are extremely vague. To an insider, the words are intentionally vague.
When choosing to pursue a Pre-Graduate School Internship at the LBJ School through the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium, I was not sure what to expect. Part of the issue lays in the fact that my own interests are far from solidified. I had very little idea whether the experience would have any value to me. Yet, I soon found out that a combination of intellectual curiosity and internal motivation were the keys to making the most out of one's public affairs school experience.
One of the biggest lessons I learned regarding public affairs school is the need to play to one's strength. My mentor, Josh Haney, was a great match for me because we both had similar interests-educational policy. However, the classes he took, especially being a first year student, had very little to do with educational policy. What I found from shadowing him in classes was that seemingly broad topics such as Public Management and Politics and Process are actually not so broad. These topics and courses that make up the Masters in Public Affairs degree transcend experiences, whether someone works on Capitol Hill or Rolling Hills Elementary School. It then becomes the challenge and the responsibility of the student to take assignments and apply them to their interests. For example, during one class, the assignment was for all students to write an op-ed piece. After submitting it, students went around the room and shared the topic they wrote about. It was to my surprise and delight that no two people wrote about the same thing. Each op-ed symbolized the individual's passion and interest. Even the faculty member, Kenneth Ashworth, interspliced his lesson with an abundance of examples from his own experience as the Commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. In a lot of ways, the M.P.Aff students symbolized exactly what the IE program preaches, which is that every student has a brand and every opportunity can help enhance that brand. Such a simple, yet effective approach to education was warming to someone whose broad interests do not always fit a convenient, traditional mold.
Another major lesson from my IE experience was the revelation of a culture based on connections. Opportunities in the public sector are rarely defined by rigid skill sets. Many of the most fascinating jobs are not presented to students in the form of applications, job boards, and interviews. Instead, much is dependent on networking. I was always aware of the role that networking plays in any aspect of life, but it became more apparent to me as a fundamental tool for opportunity. For example, it was through my mentor's network that I was able to meet Dr. Ashworth, one of the most influential higher education figures in Texas. I was also able to get an op-ed piece published in The LBJ Journal. Similar to academic research, networking does not always have direct, easily-identifiable, formative benefits. However, one should never look at networking as simply a job-creating tool, but rather, keys to untapped resources. It is the combination of advice and direction that those in a network provide that make the activity most beneficial and crucial.
Most importantly, my experience as a Pre-Graduate School Intern did not crack open the door to a graduate education for me; instead, it swung up open the door of my undergraduate education. The IE program helped me realize my role and my blessing as a student at this university. People on the Forty Acres and beyond want to see students succeed and are willing to lend advice and guidance. I began to think differently in classes as seemingly mundane as Arabic and Managerial Accounting, and see connections between them. I e-mailed professors across campus to see if they would be willing to lend me a little bit of their time to guide me on a project. I started asking different questions in class and attending lectures and talks as they fit in my schedule. There was a new found wholesomeness and appreciation of my surroundings, making me realize why I came to college and what I came for.
Right now, I might be able to delineate tangible things that this experience has done for me. The prospects of not simply what has been but instead what can be is the defining, resounding contribution to my education as a person.