July 11, 2020

From exploring Aggieland to studying abroad, a Texas A&M University experience can take students anywhere. For Barbara Tsao ’17 and Clare Elizondo ’18, these opportunities included interning in Washington, D.C., thanks to the university’s Public Policy Internship Program (PPIP).

Coordinated through the undergraduate studies office, PPIP trains, places and supports students in policy-related internships in Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, and various European Union locations. Established in 1999, the program is offered each semester and has supported more than 1,000 students throughout its history. Most recently, PPIP placed 11 students in internships in the nation’s capital this summer, with some interning remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As one of the university’s premiere leadership and development opportunities, PPIP allows undergraduate and graduate students to gain hands-on policy experience and develop professional skills that can help them achieve their future educational and career goals. 

These benefits are exemplified through Tsao and Elizondo, who are both set to attend prestigious Ivy League law schools in the fall where their time with PPIP can continue to guide them.

Taking Initiative

Barbara Tsao ’17, who will attend Harvard Law School this fall, traveled to Washington, D.C., during summer 2016 to intern with the American Public Human Services Association through PPIP.

Tsao, who earned her degree in biomedical sciences with an honors fellow distinction, discovered PPIP through a friend who had participated in the program the previous year. “When she told me about her experience in D.C., I was interested by the rare opportunity to pursue authentic work in the public policy sphere while still in college,” Tsao explained. “I was sold.”

In summer 2016, Tsao traveled to Washington, D.C., to intern with the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA), a nonprofit that represents state and local health and human services agencies. During the 10-week internship, Tsao worked for the organization’s National Collaborative for Integration of Health and Human Services team, where she researched the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Affordable Care Act to draft policy briefs for the 2016 Medicaid Managed Care Final Ruling.

“PPIP was one of the best experiences I had at Texas A&M,” Tsao said. “Taking on a high-impact internship so far from home allowed me to step into my own independence as a future professional.” 

The internship helped Tsao develop confidence in smaller ways as well, such as when her co-workers invited her to happy hour after her first day on the job. “My colleagues made sure I felt seen not just as a student but as an equal partner,” Tsao recalled. “That was the moment in my internship when I began to view my role in the organization differently and recognize the full potential of my voice.”

For Tsao, who will attend Harvard Law School this fall, a major takeaway was learning the importance of initiative. “Learning to be independent and proactive in seeking opportunities is one of the biggest lessons I learned through PPIP,” she said. “It emphasized to me that I have the power to heavily shape my own academic and professional experiences, and that is something I will carry with me to Harvard.”

While originally interested in a career in health policy law, Tsao now plans to focus on intellectual property and patent law, a shift inspired by her experience as a high school science teacher the past two years. “Teaching science has made me realize the importance of making science accessible to others,” she added. “PPIP clarified the role law plays in this area, emphasized the importance of communicating science in the public realm, and showed me the fascinating intersection of science and law.”

Making Connections

Like Tsao, Elizondo also interned with APHSA. During summer 2017, Elizondo performed policy analysis and informed the organization’s stakeholders of the rapidly changing situation during Congress’s attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“It was an exciting time to be in Washington,” Elizondo recalled. “We would finish writing one article about the Affordable Care Act legislation, and by the time we were done, there would already be a new development. It was empowering to be in that electrifying D.C. environment where everything was happening and to share that with a big group of stakeholders. It was a great professional experience.”

Clare Elizondo ’18, who will attend Yale Law School this fall, also interned with the American Public Human Services Association through PPIP during summer 2017.

As a Brown Scholar, President’s Endowed Scholar and biomedical sciences major, Elizondo was introduced to health policy in 2016 when she interned with Vanderbilt Medical Center. During that internship, her time was split between shadowing doctors and researching Medicaid policy. “I fell in love with health policy research and the huge impact policy and law can have,” she explained. “I wanted to see what that kind of work looked like in D.C., so PPIP seemed like a perfect opportunity.”

The experience Elizondo gained through PPIP is beneficial in her current role at Deloitte as a government consultant. “PPIP was a great choice for me,” she said. “I currently work in the health and human services sector at Deloitte, and although the work is more technology-focused than what I did with APHSA, but it’s been very helpful context to have.”

Elizondo’s time with the program and at Texas A&M will continue to guide her as she attends Yale Law School this fall to explore opportunities in criminal justice and health policy. “I’m still shocked that I was accepted to Yale,” she said. “It’s excellent for government work and public interest work, and I’m super excited about it.”

The connections Elizondo made through PPIP, both with fellow Aggie students and with policy professionals, encouraged her to pursue her dream of attending law school. “PPIP was a great opportunity for me to see that law is a path I enjoyed and that so many people are also interested in these areas,” she explained. “I also met many great mentors at APHSA that encouraged me to pursue a law degree and to gain work experience before attending law school, which was valuable in my application process. I can’t say enough good things about my time with PPIP.”

Interested in helping the Public Policy Internship Program develop future professionals? You can support students through a scholarship to cover travel, housing, tuition and other expenses during their internship. For more information, contact ppip@tamu.edu or visit ppip.tamu.edu.