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College of Arts and Sciences

Political science internships boost student careers and SC workforce

Political science alumna Kiley Cosby graduated in December with a full-time job lined up in the South Carolina Governor’s Office of Ombudsman.

“I serve as a liaison between state government and constituents. I talk to citizens of South Carolina all day and help to address any problems or concerns that they have,” Cosby says.

Cosby found her job through a course-based internship program in USC’s Department of Political Science. Instructor Joshua Meyer-Gutbrod spearheaded the program with support from the College of Arts and Sciences’ McCausland Innovation Fund.

Offered in the fall and spring with different course content, the program matches students to internships in state government. The weekly classes provide additional support to help students make the most of their internships.

For her first semester, Cosby was selected to work with the South Carolina Department of Human Resources. Cosby says her boss at that time, Karen Wingo, encouraged her to shadow many people working in state government.

“A successful internship allows a student to test various opportunities to determine which align best to their education, interest and goals,” says Wingo, who is the director of State Human Resources and a partner in piloting the new program.

Cosby says job shadowing was one of her favorite parts of her internship experience and what led her to meet her current boss. After her first semester in the program, Cosby pivoted to an internship with the ombudsman’s office, where her hard work as an intern earned her the invitation to stay on full-time in her role.

“Through job shadowing, I formed important relationships and realized that no matter where you start out, there’s always room for growth and so many avenues you can pursue in state government,” Cosby says.

An unexpected match

Meyer-Gutbrod says he hopes the program will help students consider different possibilities for careers in state or local government. With the seat of state government just steps away from USC’s Columbia campus, students have many opportunities to intern, job shadow and find jobs with state agencies.

But despite the availability of open positions, Meyer-Gutbrod says students have typically had a tough time finding internships.

“A lot of these roles get filled behind scenes by word of mouth,” he says. “My job in this program is to sort of hold that door open.”
For Davon Beaton, a political science major who is headed to law school after graduating this spring, the door to an internship had seemed to be closed until his senior year.

“This internship course was what really propelled me into getting an internship,” Beaton says. “Without this, I feel like it’s hard for political science majors to find these positions unless you know someone.”

A double-major in political science and criminal justice, Beaton has interned for two semesters with the Legislative Liaison for the state’s Department of Corrections. Beaton says the position has aligned with his goals as a pre-law student.

“My main responsibility is to research legislation and policies that impact individuals within the correctional facilities,” Beaton says.

One issue he has worked on is prison wages. Typically, prisoners make well below minimum wage, and his office is working to get prisoners a raise to at least the Federal minimum wage.

Working for the Department of Corrections was something different from the average internship, which Beaton says made him stand out in his law school applications. Admitted to multiple law schools, Beaton is still deciding on which school he will attend in the fall.

Through job shadowing, I formed important relationships and realized that no matter where you start out, there’s always room for growth and so many avenues you can pursue in state government.

Kiley Cosby
Kiley Cosby stands on USC's campus.

Opening the door for more students

The success of the internship program has facilitated connections between state agencies and the College of Arts and Sciences, which will host a career fair open to all USC students.

Ashley Byrd-White, director of experiential learning for the college, launched the event to raise student awareness of career paths in state government.

“If students learn about state agencies and have early opportunities for job shadowing, internships or entry-level positions, they can learn so much and develop these skill sets,” Byrd-White says.  “Research shows that if students have an internship, they are more likely to become a full-time employee.”

That was certainly the case for Kiley Cosby, who is working during a gap year as she prepares to go to law school. Her role in the state’s Department of Administration has helped her narrow down what kind of lawyer she’d like to be, especially as many of the issues she fields involve children.

“It’s made me want to do something focused on helping kids in tough situations, who may not have control over their environment,” Cosby says. “I’d like to do something to help.”

South Carolina State Agency Industry Day will be held Wednesday, March 27, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. in the Russell House Ballroom. Any USC student is welcome to attend the event to network and learn about available jobs in state government.
Pre-registration is requested but not required.

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