Shape Your Future: Unlocking Politics, Advocacy, and Career Success at Rowan University with RIPPAC

Students ask Steve Sweeny questions after events.

The Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship (RIPPAC) has been instrumental in helping students from all different undergraduate programs get an in-depth and up close look at politics, government and issue advocacy. Headed by the founding director, Dr. Benjamin Dworkin, RIPPAC is a platform to expose students to new ideas and views on politics, government, and issue advocacy. Under Dr. Dworkin’s leadership, students are able to expand their worldview and career options through different events hosted each semester and different internships that students are eligible for. 

RIPPAC’s Growth Under Dr. Dworkin

Dr. Dworkin came to Rowan in January of 2018 with major goals that would propel students into positions of success after college. “My goals were to create a pipeline for students to get involved in politics, government and issue advocacy. I wanted to create a platform for ideas and rethinking about politics and government and how they interact with the general society. We wanted to create an opportunity, a new space, for the development of new ideas right here at Rowan’s campus,” says Dr. Dworkin. RIPPAC has created a platform where individuals on both sides of the aisle, of all beliefs and values, can come together to discuss the issues of the day, to network with each other to create lasting bonds that will span into students’ professional careers. 

Students with Dr. Dworkin and the Prof at a tabling event.

His impact on his students have gone far beyond the classroom. Each student has the chance to sit down with him to map out how to achieve the professional goals they have set for themselves. Nicolette DePalma, sophomore political science major, said this about Dworkin’s impact on students, “Professor Dworkin truly cares about each and every student he comes across. He truly cares about you and your success. He has been so helpful through this whole process for me– not to mention he knows so many great people across NJ politics!” For students looking to make a difference at any level of government issues across a number of issues, getting involved is the first step to success.

The Institute’s growth since its founding has allowed for a multitude of exciting new possibilities. Part of this growth includes bringing in Rowan alumni, Liz Dirks, to help run the program. There was a lot of excitement about returning to her alma mater to help take on a new challenge. She says, “This excited me most because in recent years I have been making a career turn. When I was in undergrad at Rowan, I was a Radio and TV Film major. I greatly enjoyed that program. But as I got out of school, I realized it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do with myself. I wanted to go into something more general communications and, later on, politics so this seemed like a really good way for me to be able to impart my experience on students, explain the importance of getting an internship, the importance of networking, everything Dr. Dworkin says. I also really like the idea of being around people who have similar love of politics and understanding it, understanding how it works, and just wanting to be good civil servants. I was really excited to be in that kind of group.” 

Events and Opportunities For Students

Throughout the year RIPPAC hosts a variety of events from resume building workshops to networking events, to hosting guest speakers. One of the many opportunities students have to enhance their experience is to attend the late-lunches that are hosted on Fridays once a month or to attend the different speakers that come to campus. New Jersey’s governor’s race is set for 2025 and RIPPAC is committed to bringing in as many candidates as possible for the students to see speak with and shake hands with. Bringing in speakers from across a range of government positions, from the former State Senate President, the Honorable Steve Sweeney, to the newest of New Jersey’s Director of Local Government Services, Commissioner Jacquelyn Suarez, allows for students to have access to people they would not ordinarily be able to have access to.

The Mid-Atlantic Political Internship Summit (MAPIS) is RIPPACs premiere event. Students from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware who have political science internships are invited to Rowan for a chance to connect with students from different universities to exchange ideas and grow their network. A day-long event, recent speakers include prominent speakers such as U.S. Rep. Andy Kim and U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, as well as different breakout rooms with panels that give students insight from some of the brightest minds from different jobs in politics, government and advocacy. MAPIS is a meeting of future leaders, future lawmakers, and future political players– the best of what many universities have to offer. 

Students stand with Professor Dworkin for a group picture at MAPIS 2023.

The Importance of Internships and Getting Involved

Part of each student’s education is to not just learn what is taught in a classroom, but to see how it plays out as well. Internships are integral to a student’s growth, but Dr. Dworkin believes that students should get as much experience as possible, “One of the things we emphasize is that a student should not do just one internship over the course of their time here. Each internship leads to a better internship, each internship allows students to build their resume, to gain so many new experiences in offices and other settings that they have a better sense of what they want to do when they graduate. All the data shows that if you have two internships over the course of your undergraduate collegiate career, you’re doubling the chances of finding a job within a few months of graduating. That number goes up exponentially if you have three.  So, we encourage students to see us as early as possible to get that process started and to think about the kind of career that you might be interested in.  We want to help the student get to the first step so it gets them to the next step next summer, etc.” Part of building well rounded students is ensuring that students are able to enter the workforce ready for the challenges and tasks they are asked to take on.

From a student’s perspective, RIPPAC’s internship opportunities are a chance to learn lessons that are not taught on a Powerpoint, it is also a chance to learn from some of the top minds in politics, government, and issue advocacy at the local, state, and federal level. Internships across a variety of fields are open to all students who get involved, something sophomore history and political science major Mario Barone IV encourages all students to do, “Go to the speakers that come to campus, take Professor Dworkin’s class, and engage with the topics brought up. RIPPAC can either be something you do casually and it will probably help you a little but if you take it seriously, it can provide a wealth of knowledge and connection you would have never had otherwise,” says Mario. 

RIPPAC aims not just to help students with getting internships but also helps fund their internships since many are unpaid. At its founding, the Institute was unable to help students, but the growth of the program has changed that. Under Dr. Dworkin’s leadership, “We expect this summer to give away at least $22,000 in scholarship to potentially 17 different students to make it easier, so students can go to their parents and say, ‘I don’t have to work at a retail store and I don’t have to paint houses’, all of which will make you money but doesn’t exactly help your career.” Part of the program’s mission is to ensure that students are able to not only get hands-on experience and expand their professional networks, but to ensure they have a great experience including making the financial side of the internships easier. 

The growth and success that RIPPAC has achieved has been staggering, a trend that is projected to continue upward. Dr. Dworkin attributes the growth and success to the institutional support he leaves from the University’s leaders, “The whole thing is a tremendous accomplishment and a tribute to Rowan University. I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank former Provost Jim Newell and the current Provost Anthony Lowman, both of whom have been tremendous supporters along with President Houshmand.” Rowan’s Institution for Public Policy and Citizenship looks forward to helping students from all majors achieve their political professional goals during their collegiate careers.

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Story by: Thomas Ubelhoer, political science and international studies double major

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