Undergrads spend summer getting to know government thanks to new fellows program


A UC Berkeley student’s time as an undergraduate comes with endless possibilities. Students are often interested in many things and have a hard time knowing which to pursue. If you ask Leonard D. Schaeffer how to get some direction, he’ll tell new students to ask themselves a few simple, but important, questions.

First of all, what are you good at? Second, what would someone pay you to do? Finally, but most importantly, what makes you feel good?

Many jobs can answer the first two questions but may fall short for the third. These three questions and his lifetime of experience as a business leader, policy expert, and philanthropist are part of what inspired Schaeffer to establish the Leonard D. Schaeffer Fellows Program at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Center for Public Health Practice & Leadership. He wanted to give undergraduate students the opportunity to explore government careers that are health related through 10-week internships.

Schaeffer, who served in the federal government as administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration (now CMS) and at the state level in Illinois before founding the health benefits company WellPoint in 1992, says he does not intend to push the students into government careers definitively. Rather, he hopes to expose them to the inner workings of government and the many ways that public health and government connect. He wanted to afford this opportunity to undergraduates because he feels that they are still incredibly open-minded, whereas graduates have more likely honed in on what they want to do in their careers.

“This is supposed to create a group of people who have actual experience with government,” Schaeffer said, addressing the inaugural cohort at a graduation luncheon in Berkeley on August 16. “So that, should you be in a situation where you have to make decisions or vote, you will have a sense of what government can and can’t do. And hopefully if you thought it made sense for you, maybe you will be involved in policymaking at whatever level of government you choose.”

The program, which launched this summer, gave 10 inaugural fellows from various backgrounds and majors experience at nine different agencies at the local, state, and federal level. Their time in the program provided numerous opportunities to network with key legislators and to even take the reins on important projects, giving insight to the workings of government as it is related to public health.