It sounds like the beginning of a bad political joke: the respective presidents of the campus Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians were sitting around one day talking about what they would do if they ever won the lottery.
It is actually the origin of Elizabeth Michelle Hill’s recent gift to Case Western Reserve University’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“We all talked about how great it would be to do something to support the political science department if we ever had the means,” remarks Hill, a 1997 joint bachelor’s and master’s political science major, with a double minor in economics and mathematics. “We were a close knit group, and we loved the department.”
It was a casual conversation, one of many in a typically busy academic year for Hill, but the idea stuck with her for over a decade.
Last fall, Hill had another important conversation. She sat down with current political science chair Joseph White to talk about how her individual philanthropic support could help the department better meet the needs of students.
The result is the Wellman Hill Political Science Internship, the first endowed fund in the department to support student internships. The program is named for Hill’s grandfather, who devoted his life to government service.
“He was a lifelong patriot,” Hill recalls of the grandfather who passed away in 2006. “He taught me that government service is an honorable path.”
For Hill, now deputy district attorney in San Mateo County, California, the desire to provide internship opportunities to students was directly tied her own financial challenges and opportunities as a student.
“My ‘big’ summer job through most of undergrad was working at Kentucky Fried Chicken,” Hill quips. “Like a lot of my friends, I would have loved to do something more substantive, but I needed the summer to earn money for the following year.”
During the summer between completing her undergraduate degree and beginning Stanford Law School, Hill finally got the opportunity she was looking for: a Truman Foundation Scholarship. Along with support for three years of law school, the scholarship enabled Hill to accept an internship at the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, DC.
For nearly three months, she learned the ins and outs of legal research, gained a better understanding of the state and federal court system, and researched projects on both victim restitution and jurisdiction in criminal cases involving Native Americans.
“The internship definitely gave me a leg up,” she says. “Unlike the majority of my peers, I was actually doing legal work before I ever stepped foot in law school.”
More importantly, perhaps, Hill recognizes the power of a great internship to help young students determine early on whether a particular career path is right for them.
“All too often in law school I saw fellow students discover too late that being a lawyer was not the right choice for them,” she says.
Department chair Joseph White also notes that prospective students and their parents often ask about internship opportunities. Beyond this, White believes that experiential learning is critical in “rounding out” an undergraduate education in political science.
“We do well in the classroom,” he says. “But I’m really glad that we’ll be able to help on the experiential side, thanks to Ms. Hill’s generosity.”
The first group of Wellman Hill Political Science Interns will explore their potential careers this summer. Their individual projects include studying global elections and human rights violations at the Carter Center in Atlanta; observing the criminal justice system at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office in Chicago; and doing genetic disease advocacy at Washington, D.C.’s Genetic Alliance.