Federal Player of the Week

An HHS intern makes a difference

Photo Courtesy of Rachel Volke
Photo Courtesy of Rachel Volke (Photo Courtesy of Rachel Volke)
From the Partnership for Public Service
Monday, April 26, 2010; 11:59 AM

For the average college student, work means writing a paper, leading a campus organization or even being a mentor. But for Rachel Volke, a senior at the University of Maryland, work is all the above and so much more.

Aside from her class schedule and impressive list of extracurricular activities, Volke is working as an intern at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where she has been involved in a variety of projects, including helping research and write a report related to the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus in parts of the Southern Hemisphere. Assigned to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Volke has participated in many aspects of policy development and program management aimed at addressing public health. She has attended senior level policy meetings, researched public health issues and benefited from the kind of experience that no college course could accurately convey.

"Increases in the speed and frequency of international travel and trade have made the circulation of people and diseases much faster and easier." she said. "With this globalization has also come a greater need for international collaboration on public health issues┬┐the field that I am most interested in," Volke said.

Raul Sotomayor, Volke's supervisor and a senior international health program analyst, said the 20-year old has been integral to recent work done in the office.

According to Sotomayor, many of the department's internship positions are filled by graduate and doctoral students. Lacking the in-depth experience of those students, Volke said she was challenged to prove she could do the job, and along with her part-time work at the office, she sometimes spent additional time working from home on projects.

"I was so happy and grateful to be included in meaningful work because I'd heard stories from congressional and legislative interns who were primarily doing reception work," Volke said. "But for me to have the opportunity to do work beyond the administrative and be able to contribute directly to the mission has been an amazing experience."

HHS is one of dozens of federal agencies offering internships to everyone from high school students to doctoral candidates. Volke connected with HHS through the University of Maryland's Federal Semester Program, which combines an academic seminar course in the fall with an internship in the spring, and includes visits to federal agencies.

Volke said the experience at HHS has reinforced her desire to become a physician and then to pursue a career in public service.

"My goal is to go to medical school and then work in the federal government because the potential for impact is just so huge," she said. "I'm now very interested in epidemiology and studying infectious diseases. I feel very lucky to have had this experience as an intern while in school because my career path will be more focused going forward."

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Visit www.ourpublicservice.org for more about the organization's work.

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