Faculty Spotlight

December 2014 Faculty Spotlight with Distinguished Lecturer, Michael Feller

December Faculty Spotlight

Internships are an integral part of any student’s higher education experience. They transition aspiring professionals between the classroom and the workplace, instilling enriching experiences along the way. But not every one is the same. We speak to Distinguished Lecturer, Michael Feller about what creates the best possible internship experience.

You spent 11 years as a teacher and administrator in public schools in New Rochelle and East Harlem and 21 years at JPMorgan Chase as Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and President of the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation. Can you tell me what these experiences were like and how they prepared you for your professorial roles at the School of Public Affairs over the years?
Coming out of college I felt that I could make a difference by working with young people in the inner city. During the time I spent working on my doctorate at Teachers College, Columbia University, I had the opportunity to work in New Rochelle on a federally-funded desegregation program and then in Community School District 4 in East Harlem, where I was the founder of an alternative junior high school and then was responsible for developing new programs and obtaining funding for them. So beginning early in my career, I discovered that I had an aptitude for developing programs that brought different groups of people together for a common purpose; in this case, improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged children.

During the second half of my time at JPMorgan Chase, I was able to utilize my previous experiences and connections in the community, first as the Director of Community Relations and then as president of the foundation. As I approach my 10th anniversary at the School, everything that I have done has followed in this path, i.e., all of my courses have been focused on helping students identify career opportunities through participation in structured internship experiences. Over the past five years, I have worked with about 110 undergraduate and 110 graduate students who completed internships in 100 nonprofit organizations and about 20 government agencies.

You handle internship placements in addition to other critical administrative duties for The Washington Semester. What sets this program apart from similar ones at other institutions?
To start the process, I partner with each student to identify the most appropriate internship opportunities and develop a strategy for obtaining the right one. This includes using our School alumni network in Washington which has resulted in a number of excellent placements (e.g., the Department of Commerce).

There is a cost to the host organization in terms of the time and effort required to develop meaningful projects, supervise the intern and provide feedback. Recognizing this, I have found that the best internship experiences take place when there is a three-way partnership between the student, internship site and school. To this end, I meet with each student and her/his supervisor at the internship site to talk about the internship and provide feedback to each other. I stay in close touch with interns and supervisors during the semester to ensure that the experience is an excellent one, and arrange a final get together to thank the supervisors and recognize them for the work they have done. I believe this approach differentiates The Washington Semester from others.

What are some of the most meaningful experiences you've had placing students in internships?
I believe our greatest success comes when a student is able to turn an internship into a full-time position following graduation. For example, Veronica Trelles, worked at Pro Mujer – a microfinance organization – as a Hagedorn intern. Veronica is now in her second year as a Pro Mujer staff member and has received a promotion. George Mathew worked at the New York Harbor Healthcare System (a VA Hospital) while taking PAF 9195, the graduate internship course. George received his MPA in May 2013 and is now a full-time staff member who received the Outstanding Intern Award from the Federal Executive Board during the Federal Employees of the Year reception in May 2014. Both Veronica and George credit their internship experiences as a major factor in their successful entry into their current positions.