Campus & Community

Public service rewarded, encouraged at Kennedy School

5 min read

Third-year Suffolk University Law School student Peter Brown wants to help eradicate employment discrimination. Thanks in large measure to a Jerome Lyle Rappaport Charitable Foundation internship, which brought him this past summer to the Attorney General’s (AG) office in Boston, Brown is well on his way to his dream job with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Brown was one of a handful of Boston-area law students to receive a Rappaport Charitable Foundation internship. These awards are an entrée for students into government offices and nonprofit organizations, venues where they can hone their understanding of public service and civic leadership.

“Discrimination against persons merely because of who they are cannot be tolerated in any area,” asserted Brown, whose work this past summer included a joint project with the AG’s office and the EEOC. On that project, Brown helped interpret the Older Workers Benefits Protection Act, a federal statute designed to protect workers from age discrimination.

Students, public leaders, and educators told similarly satisfying stories when they gathered on Monday (Feb. 11) evening at Suffolk University Law School to discuss the rewards and challenges of public service. The event, organized by Harvard and Suffolk University, celebrated the Jerome Lyle Rappaport Charitable Foundation’s programs. These programs encourage graduate students to engage in public service, and offer public leaders full-tuition fellowships for attendance at the Kennedy School of Government.

The Rappaport Charitable Foundation was created in 1997 to promote leadership in public policy and other areas. Of the foundation’s components, two operate out of the Kennedy School: the Rappaport Urban Fellowship, offering full Kennedy School tuition to public officials; and the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, which provides public service internships to Kennedy School students.

Hallie Torrell, a second-year student at the Kennedy School, was, like Brown, a recipient of a Rappaport Foundation internship. Torrell’s award brought her to the Boston Public Health Commission, where she soon was into the nitty-gritty of public service – helping to write a policy and procedures manual for the commission’s administrators. “It was fascinating to see administration at the local level,” Torrell said. This combination of public administration and local government “was the best of all possible worlds for me.”

New England School of Law student Laura Johnson also received a Rappaport internship. She joined ranks with the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization working to preserve land for human enjoyment by establishing parks and other recreational areas, like greenways and riverways.

Johnson’ s project involved gathering information from local communities in New England to define how these areas could be “greened.” “We looked at what open space plans they have in place,” said Johnson. “We wanted to find out how they do things, and what they need, so we didn’t impose our methods on their communities.” Johnson plans to stay in conservation work after she graduates. “I want to look broadly at how we can change policies to affect positive change for the greatest number of people,” she said.

Phyllis Rappaport, who chairs the Rappaport Charitable Foundation, clearly enjoys watching students find their public service careers. She said one of reward she reaps from her work comes from “promoting emerging leaders. We feel privileged, helping to match the talent in our bright students with public service challenges – it just doesn’t get better than that.”

In addition to ushering graduate students into public service, the Rappaport Charitable Foundation sends public servants back to school through its Kennedy School-based Rappaport Urban Fellowship. Rachel Kaprielian, now in her fourth term as a state representative, attends the Kennedy School part time, with tuition paid by the fellowship.

“The life of a politician is so by-the-seat-of-your-pants that you don’t have time to delve into policy issues,” said Kaprielian. “But at the Kennedy School, I can explore them. I love getting the historical perspective of how political leadership has evolved over the centuries.” And while the legislature grapples with thorny budgetary problems, Kaprielian finds her classes on state and local finance “so useful. It’s my most relevant course.”

“I believe in and value public service,” said the event’s keynote speaker, Charles Baker. Now president and chief executive officer of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Baker served in public office for more than a decade. Among other posts, Baker was secretary of health and human services and secretary of administration and finance for former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. As a public official, Baker was credited with helping lead the commonwealth’s fiscal turnaround from the financial crisis of the late 1980s to a surplus position.

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care called on Baker in 1999 to help the nonprofit managed-care organization out of its own fiscal predicament. Noting how undervalued the contributions of public servants can be, Baker said that when he took over Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, “I made four phone calls – all to the public sector” – and those four individuals joined him as his top management team. Within two and a half years, “we took a $227 million loss and turned it into a $30 million operating gain. Not bad for a bunch of public sector lifers.”