Summer in the State Capital: Elizabethtown College Produces Most Finnegan Fellows
While an undergraduate student at Gettysburg College, Professor of Political Science and Department Chair April Kelly-Woessner spent the summer of 1994 in the state capital, researching environmental justice at the Office of Public Liaison at the Department of Environmental Resources (now known as DCNR). As part of this paid internship, which also came along with a monetary award, she said she was able to use her “research methods skills to solve a real-world problem in state government.” That’s the idea behind the highly competitive fellowship program offered by the James A. Finnegan Fellowship Foundation.
“Proudly providing summer internships for Pennsylvania’s future leaders.”
That’s the tagline for the Foundation, which, since 1960, has provided real-world learning experiences for students, who either attend PA institutions or are residents of the state, in all three branches of state government: executive, judicial and legislative. Kelly-Woessner said that these fellowships give students “a new appreciation for the complexities of state government.” Another benefit, she said, is that students meet weekly with high-level government officials over lunch. “This is a relaxed meeting over lunch, so students really get to engage in meaningful dialog about state politics,” she said.
Takeaways and next steps vary from student to student—some take the path to academia, some go on to law school and others begin a career in public service. Two former Finnegan Fellows went on to become recipients of a Fulbright award.
Elizabethtown College has an impressive history with Finnegan. As of this writing, in 2015, Elizabethtown College has produced 22 Finnegan Fellows—the most out of any Pennsylvania college or university. And a lot of that has to do with mentorship. Kelly-Woessner’s advisor encouraged her to apply to the prestigious Finnegan Fellow program; years later, she did the same for one of her E-town students, Kyle Kopko. He applied, was selected, and spent the summer of 2004 in Harrisburg. Kopko now teaches at Elizabethtown alongside his former mentor, inspiring his own students to consider a Finnegan Fellowship.
“We have several generations happening here,” Kelly-Woessner said.
She says the Finnegan Fellowship application process is not an easy one. Students must complete an original essay, taking a justified stance on a real-world issue posed by the Foundation—complete with research to back up their position. Kelly-Woessner said which side a student takes does not matter: the objective research does. What’s more is that with the timing of deadlines, this work is usually completed over Winter Break.
“Students do this with no promise for academic credit or award,” she said. “It’s admirable that they even apply.” She added that some students will try again if they don’t make it on their first attempt—and, often, that perseverance is rewarded.
Recent Award Winners:
Elizabethtown College’s Complete Finnegan Fellow History:
- 1982 – Craig Bright
- 1983 – Craig Bright
- 1984 – Craig Bright
- 1993 – Ethan Haase
- 1995 – Duane Stone
- 1996 – Jessica Gensler
- 1997 – Melanie Reiser, Kristy Wade
- 2003 – Matthew Miller
- 2004 – Jessica Defenderfer, Kyle Kopko
- 2006 – John Bayard, Jason Theobold
- 2007 – Daniel Mallinson
- 2009 – Megan Bean, Alexandra D’Angola
(view all Finnegan Fellows here .)