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Policy Pitch Competition brings summer internships to life

September 21, 2023

A packed Annenberg Auditorium was on edge as 14 BA and MPP students gave enthusiastic renderings of “What I did with my summer” at the 6th Annual Policy Pitch Competition, hosted by Ford School Career Services.

They were each given just three minutes to explain their background, policy interest, institution, and internship accomplishments. Selecting winners was difficult. The judges were Travis Radina, Ann Arbor City Council member & Mayor Pro Tem and Senior Associate Director of Alumni Advocacy at the U-M Alumni Association, and Erica Colaianne, Interim Director, Social Media & Public Engagement, at the U-M Office of the Vice President for Communications. 

Kaei Li (MPP ‘24) described her work at public affairs firm SKDK in Washington, DC. Her focus was on storytelling that brings people together. While she worked for a number of clients, the most important revolved around agriculture and climate change. “Use every opportunity to tell stories,” because they are the best way of reaching diverse audiences, she cajoled. As a storyteller, she won first prize. 

Gabriel Sylvan (MPP ‘24) was able to work with Save the Children on his passionate interest in the world’s 100 million forcibly displaced people. He worked on creating briefing papers for targeted members of the U.S. House of Representatives, to include the needs of forcibly displaced children in legislation. He followed those up with meetings with congressional staffers. For his dedication to reframing the language of refugee assistance, his presentation garnered second prize from the judges.

Andrew Freigang (MPP ‘24), wants more scientists to be involved in policy-making. Using his scientific background and interests, he was able to work at the Nuclear Energy Institute. He cares deeply about the mission of decarbonizing electricity production, noting that nuclear energy currently supplies 50% of the carbon-free energy in the U.S. The judges appreciated his ability to translate a complicated subject into a digestible pitch in awarding him third place.

“Give voice to the voiceless” was the theme of an inspiring presentation by Brittney Barros (MSW, MPP ‘24), about her experiences in, and passion for reform of, the foster care system, which overwhelmingly won the audience prize. Her summer work at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will give her a boost in pursuing health equity and promoting stable households. She noted that a program she helped create in her county has been adapted state-wide. Barros hopes MDHHS will continue to hire teams of lived experience advocates like her.

The other impressive presentations covered a wide range of experiences and inspirations: Kayla Guillory (MDes, MPP ‘24), City of Detroit Mayor’s Office; Akhila Mullapudi (BA ‘25), U.S. Department of Defense; Eddie Weber (MPP ‘24), FinRegLab; Haley Neuenfeldt (MS, MPP ‘24), EGLE, State of Michigan Office of Climate and Energy; Jerry Mendez (MPP ‘24), U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce; Isha Khan (BA ‘25), Rep. Ilhan Omar’s Congressional Office in DC; Flor Azul Lorenzo (MPP ‘24), Office of the Chief Financial Officer, City of Detroit; Lucas Haymes (BA ‘25), University of Michigan Office of Federal Relations in DC; Juan Sandoval (MPP ‘24), Detroit Future City; and Valery Martinez (MSW, MPP ‘23), SAMHSA’s 988 & Behavioral Health Crisis Coordinating Office.

The annual event served again to celebrate the accomplishments of the presenters, and gave a glimpse to incoming students about internship possibilities they can explore with Career Services.