International Economic Development Council gift honors alumnus and provides students unique experiences

Corinne Colbert
March 3, 2014

The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs prides itself on being a “do tank” — a place where students and faculty put their learning and expertise to work. Often, that happens close to Ohio University’s home in Athens. Thanks to a gift from the International Economic Development Council, though one lucky student each summer gets the opportunity to step up to the big leagues in Washington, D.C.

In 2011, IEDC — the world’s largest economic development organization — gave the school $25,000 to establish the Jeffrey A. Finkle Ohio University Economic Development Internship. The gift recognized 25 years of leadership by the organization’s president and CEO, Jeffrey Finkle, an Ohio University alumnus who is the Voinovich School’s Appalachian New Economy Partnership Fellow.

The internship is open to any undergraduate Voinovich Scholar or graduate student in public affairs or environmental studies who seeks a career in economic development, city and regional planning, public administration or public policy. After a competitive selection process, one student gets to spend 10 weeks working full-time alongside IEDC’s professional researchers and consultants. And they aren’t fetching coffee or picking up the dry cleaning.

In 2012, Rebecca Cochran surveyed wind and solar energy manufacturers nationwide about their challenges; that information went into a white paper developed for the Energy Foundation. She also was part of a team that developed a five-year economic development plan for the city of New Braunfels, Texas. In 2013, Elizabeth Young worked on a project that devised alternatives to tax credits and other financial incentives for economic developers to offer potential employers.

For Young, the work was a far cry from writing papers as a political science major.

“You can’t make school into anything other than a grade,” said Young, a political science graduate now studying law at Ohio State University. “But you’re being graded on an actual product — something that actually matters, that’s going out to other economic development firms.”

The internship also offers the opportunity to network with working professionals and future colleagues.

“They had a really cool brown-bag lunch for interns, bringing in economic development professionals talk to us about our goals, urban planning and architecture, green building,” Cochran said. “I met so many great people from across the country, who I still keep in touch with.”

Off the clock, there is the lure of life in the nation’s capital — a real change from the small Ohio towns Young and Cochran called home. Interns are responsible for their own housing; Cochran rented an apartment in Arlington, Va., while Young holed up at George Washington University, which opens its residence halls to the hundreds of interns that descend on Washington each summer.

“It was really fun to be in D.C. on the Fourth of July — watching the fireworks from the memorials was the highlight of the summer,” Young said. “There’s an energy in the city on the Fourth. You can’t feel more American.”

“One of the first weekends I was there, I went to Jazz in the Park at the Smithsonian,” Cochran said. “It was so cool.”

Although 10 weeks is a short time, they had a huge impact on the interns’ lives. Cochran — whose undergraduate career included an internship with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman — followed her IEDC internship with a 13-month fellowship through the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, where she helped senators prepare the state budget.

“When members would offer opinions about issues or pieces of legislation specific to Ohio’s economic development needs, I could say, ‘When I was at IEDC, I heard about this happening, this is what was working for them,” Cochran said. “It allowed me to chime in and provide insight into what other states are doing.”

Today, she is a legislative aide to Sen. Gayle Manning (R-OH13).

“The people I worked with at IEDC are so bright and challenging,” Cochran said. “I think now on the work I’m doing here and use that experience as a measuring stick: ‘How did I do this back at IEDC, what would they say, how can I challenge myself?’ based on what they taught me there.”

Young isn’t sure what path she wants to take. “Half the time I think I want to be a prosecutor,” she said. “Half the time I think I want to have an impact on Appalachian public policy and sustainability.”

Either way, her summer in Washington will come into play, she said.

“I’m very grateful to the George Voinovich School, grateful to Jeff Finkle,” she said. “I was incredibly blessed to get that opportunity.”

Alumnus Jeff Finkle encourages other OHIO alumni to set up internships or recruit their interns from Ohio University. "Unlike the rich schools on the east coast, many of the students who go to Ohio University may not be able to get their parents to support their internship in Washington, New York etc, But while I was fortunate to be able to get my organization to fund 5 years of internships for OU students, this can be done by just hiring an OU student for the summer to do quality work for your organization."