By Julia Train
Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, placed over 100 interns throughout his five years in the role, a pivotal point in the history of the institute and its engaged learning opportunities.
The institute, founded in 2001 by the late professor David Rebovich and originally named Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics, aims to connect students majoring in subjects that relate to politics with professionals in their respective fields of study.
Rebovich, who died in 2007 at the age of 58 after suffering a heart attack in the midst of class, was Rasmussen’s political science professor and the institute’s first managing director.
“He was a beloved guy. He was the go-to guy on New Jersey politics. If somebody was writing about it in New Jersey, you talked to him.” said Rasmussen. “He set me up in my first internship and he brought speakers to campus. So it’s a real honor and a kick every day to do the work that he did.”
What the Rebovich Institute does
Rasmussen said the institute helps students in three parts: connecting them with professionals by bringing them to campus, placing them in internships and teaching them about public commentary.
Three times each semester, the institute hosts leading public officials in the state so that students can learn from those who are professionals in the field.
Past speakers have included individuals from both the Republican and Democratic parties, with congressmen, mayors, editors of political news platforms and every New Jersey governor of the past 20 years.
“Who better than the practitioners who are practicing politics every day in New Jersey to teach us?” said Rasmussen. “It’s a way for our students to get close to our public officials, and that helps them not only to learn, but it also helps when it comes time to apply for internships or for jobs.”
Rasmussen also helps students find internship placements that match their interest in career and locale.
If a student wants to participate in an internship in a specific area or season, he looks for an opportunity that fits their criteria.
An internship for everyone
Finding an internship close to home was important for Mikaela Hennig, a sophomore political science and environmental studies major who is one of Rasmussen’s students.
Hennig, who wants to be an environmental lawyer, got involved with the institute last spring when she had Rasmussen as a professor.“The first day he’s like, ‘If you guys need help getting internships, just ask me.’ So I took that upon myself to ask,” said Hennig.
Rasmussen and Hennig knew it would be a challenge to find an environmental policy internship because she wanted one close to her home in Warren County.
The hunt began with her going to her county’s commissioner, James Kern, for assistance. He suggested she go to the New Jersey Highlands Coalition. Hennig contacted them, but was turned away due to an overflow of interns already and was advised to talk to the New Jersey Highlands Council.
She took the suggestion and contacted them.
The spring semester was almost done and Hennig hadn’t heard an answer from the council. She was close to giving up on an internship for that summer, but Rasmussen emailed the council and within five minutes they responded, “We would love to have her.”
Hennig became the first intern at the New Jersey Highlands Council, a government organization that focuses on water protection in partnership with communities and municipalities in the Highlands Region, implementing the 2004 Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.
During the time at her internship, Hennig performed a number of tasks for the municipalities alongside biologists, including testing bodies of water for harmful algal blooms, gathering and graphing information and attending council meetings.
She was able to witness representatives from 88 municipalities gather to discuss the politics involved in the area’s water protection.
Along with learning about the environmental and political fields, Hennig said, “It has opened a lot of opportunities for me with the people in there. … I made a lot of good connections … and it’s going to continue helping me when I start to actually look into fields.”
Success with stacking
Rasmussen prides himself on connecting students in any major with what they’re looking for. He said Rebovich students have had an enormous amount of success with “stacking,” which he describes as the process of starting off with a broader or more general internship and narrowing it down as the student progresses through their undergraduate years.
“By stacking a couple of internships down they get more specific about what it is that they want to do in their [area of] interest,” Rasmussen said. “They are not applying cold … they’ve got experience under their belts.”
Rasmussen and the Rebovich Institute also teach their students about public commentary.
He said that as a respected voice and authority on politics with a multitude of political scientists who study American politics and political systems, it’s important to be able to respond to journalists that will ask for their perspective on what’s going on in New Jersey and its politics.
After five years in the position and 15 in politics, Rasmussen feels honored to have worked with over 100 young professionals, helping give them their start in the field.
Although geared toward politics-based majors, Rasmussen has also helped students with a variety of disciplines. He had education majors interested in jobs in education policy and a student who wanted to be an equine lawyer, which serves horse owners or professionals by reviewing contracts, handling disputes and litigation and working on tax or immigration issues, all unique to the equine industry.
“We try to be relevant to everyone on campus,” he said. “At some point in all of our careers, [the] government is going to affect us, either because we’re going to be certified by the government or because we’re going to be regulated or funded by [the] government.”