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MPA student interns get hands‑on look at the public sector

- October 11, 2013

Dal students Ana Vidovic and Chelsea Cottreau. (Nick Pearce photo)
Dal students Ana Vidovic and Chelsea Cottreau. (Nick Pearce photo)

Prior to starting Dal’s Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program, Ana Vidovic knew exactly what she wanted to do: work on issues related to Aboriginal policy.  

“I wanted to affect change on public policy initiatives that I learned were important,” says Vidovic, but she admits she did not feel prepared nor had the confidence and necessary skills needed to succeed in her desired area of work.

This summer, her wish to work in her chosen field was granted as she moved to Ottawa for four months to intern in the office of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

“Prior to doing the MPA program, I would not have been prepared to succeed at my internship the same way I did this summer. The program provided both a theoretical, big picture as well as a practical look on public sector management,” says Vidovic, who smiles while talking about her satisfying summer experience, which was spent analyzing internal corporate documents, writing briefing notes, conducting risk assessment and making presentations.

Preparing students


The Dalhousie MPA internship program, which has been running for more than 30 years, placed 36 students in internship positions across the country this summer. These included positions in regional health authorities, hospitals, with private sector companies in government relations, and government agencies and departments in the municipal, provincial and federal public services.  

Internship Coordinator Marguerite Cassin explains the MPA program has “concentrated on developing relationships with public services and employers to make certain that the work terms are challenging, and give interns a top quality educational and career enhancing experience.” The goal of the internship program is to “bring alive the learning.”
        
“The internship program has been one of the single best experiences I’ve had to date,” says Vidovic. “It has allowed me to utilize the things which at one time seemed so abstract in study. It provided context to the structural elements of the program and allowed me to build new competencies that I did not previously have.”    

MPA student Chelsea Cottreau feels the journey to an enriching university experience began long before her internship placement. She spent her summer interning at the Canadian Coast Guard College, a federal academic institution that is a part of the Canadian Coast Guard and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, located in Sydney, N.S.

“The MPA program teaches you about the application process, and what actually happens in the public service, so when we graduate we aren’t going to be in the dark about the process of being hired as public servants,” says Cottreau. “We’ve seen the tip of the iceberg, I guess.”

She notes that the work terms are awarded competitively and are paid — in other words, awarded on the same basis as public service positions.   

"For the past eight years, we have successfully placed 100 per cent of our students in competitive internship placement positions," says Robert Moody, director of the School of Public Administration. "This is a real testimony to our MPA program, our internship  component and our high-achieving students."

Rewarding experiences


Students aren’t the only ones who benefit from a summer internship. MPA interns bring the newest ideas from their course research to the workplace, and employers say they appreciate the energy, commitment and enthusiasm interns bring. According to Dr. Cassin, “Many employers report this and are pleased. Quite a few employers offer part-time work during the fall and winter following the work term.”

Cottreau certainly believes she had a valuable summer experience that will benefit her in her future career. The most exciting part of her work term was being given the opportunity to “present at a national conference on sustaining educational programs and ensuring that graduates are retrained in the workforce, with all the skills they need to fulfill their roles.”

“The biggest benefit to me was that I got to network in a department that I want to work in,” she says. “I felt I got my foot in the door this summer.”


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