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College of Education > News and Publications > News: July-September 2014 > New York City Internship Confirms Student’s Desire to Help Disadvantaged Youth

New York City Internship Confirms Student’s Desire to Help Disadvantaged Youth

Titus Chen's internship with New York City's Department of Education taught him the importance of staying true to his principles.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Imagine working for the largest public education school system in the U.S., which has a budget of $21 billion and the responsibility of overseeing 1,700 schools, at the age of 22.

Titus Chen, a senior in the College of Education’s Education and Public Policy (EPP) program, had that opportunity during his summer internship with New York City’s Department of Education.

Chen worked with the Office of Leadership (OOL), which seeks to prepare early-career educators to become principals. According to New York City’s Department of Education website, this initiative started in response to the falling standards of student achievement.

“The OOL staff is genuinely dedicated, creative and insightful in their pursuit of cultivating the future leaders of New York City’s education,” said Chen.

While he learned many lessons during his internship, Chen said the most important one came from Marina Cofield, the senior executive director of the OOL.

“She was known around the office for being an incredibly kind, soft-spoken woman of great integrity,” said Chen. “Through all of her years in the department, she always remembered why she was there. She taught me that remaining true to myself and the reasons I became involved in education would go a long way.”

Chen worked on a variety of projects, from internal communications to policy evaluation. One of his assignments for the OOL was to update their website, even though he had no previous coding experience.

“Coding could be extremely frustrating, but it was definitely one of the most useful skills I learned over the summer,” Chen said. “What surprised me most was the amount of free reign I was given over the design of the aesthetics of the website. I saw that the Department of Education places trust in all of its employees’ contributions and ideas, from entry- to senior-level.”

Chen said his experiences during the summer were vastly different than what he expected it to be through his academic studies.

“I saw that processes within any government department take time,” he said. “In class, you learn about the processes, but not about the red tape that goes along with it.”

Dana Mitra, associate professor of education who oversees the EPP internship program, said that the value of these internships is the real-world experience it provides.

“The internship component of EPP connects concepts that students explore in their coursework to working experiences,” Mitra said. “It provides students with valuable insight into various policy systems and helps them clarify career goals and interests.”

Mitra said that Chen’s internship experience would be invaluable to him.

“Titus experienced phenomenal growth during his internship,” Mitra said. “It has led him to become a more responsible, reflective and goal-centered person.”

If he could change anything about New York City’s Department of Education, Chen said he would try to open the decision-making to every level of the hierarchy.

“Everyone who comes to the Department of Education with the visions of advancing public education and helping children, holds creative ideas of merit that can contribute to the progress of schools,” said Chen. “Collaboration goes much further than competition when it comes to serving the children.”

While Chen is still unclear about his exact plan after graduation, he said his summer experience clarified one thing for him. 

“I want to be in a position that can positively lead to change,” Chen said. “It makes all the difference to me if I know that I helped disadvantaged children step toward their dreams and not stumble back into dismay.”

And Chen knows his ultimate goal.

“In the end, I want to be the founding principal, as well as a teacher, of an effective charter school.”

By (October 2014)