Workforce

Harvard students spin up gov-tech internship

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Thanks to the work of a tech group launched by three Harvard University undergraduate students, the federal government may be getting a summer tech and data science internship program analogous to those offered by Silicon Valley.

The students — Neel Mehta, Athena Kan and Chris Kuang — have partnered with former U.S. deputy CTO and current Harvard adjunct lecturer Nick Sinai, as well as senior leadership at the Census Bureau, Internal Revenue Service and Department of Veterans Affairs, to launch the first-of-its-kind Civic Digital Fellowship.

The government faces a well-documented shortage in skilled IT workers, but has made strides in recruiting outside tech talent through programs like the U.S. Digital Service, 18F and the Presidential Innovation Fellows. However, those efforts are aimed at bringing in professionals who already work in industry.

"For summer internships, there isn't much like that outside of a few scattered jobs," writes Mehta in a blog post teasing the fellowship's launch. "The best way to inspire the next generation of talented students to pursue careers in the federal government is through summer internships, and that on-ramp is missing."

While the government does offer some summer internships for tech students, they tend to confine interns to more rote, training-level IT responsibilities.

Combined with a "clunky and unstructured" application process, "that's not nearly enough to lure talented technology students away from the comforts of Silicon Valley… where they can work on modern software problems," writes Mehta.

Top-tier industry internships can offer hands-on experience on tech projects, mentorship programs, guest speakers from established tech firms, housing and even pay. Although the fellowship's budget still needs to be finalized, the students propose including these types of offerings.

The goal of the fellowship, Kan said, is to dually encourage more students to use technology for social good and help the government serve the public better.

Although the program's budget still needs to be finalized, the students expect Census to take interns from the program this summer, and are still working out details with IRS and VA.

The window to apply has not yet opened, but Mehta said he was "optimistic" about beginning to take applications for the Summer 2017 session later this week or next.

This program is not the students' first foray into government technology. They founded Coding It Forward, a social impact tech group comprising a network of hundreds of students nationwide, and have worked on open data projects ranging from polling to health care to criminal justice.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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