The Wake County Commissioner internship featured in this story, along with four other APPLES Service-Learning summer internships with public officials, would not have been possible without the generous sponsorship of Jesse White, Ph.D, retired director of the Office of Economic and Business Development at UNC-Chapel Hill. White underwrites these internships with the goal of enabling and encouraging more enterprising young people to pursue public service careers in government.
“You don’t really know what your county does,” said UNC-CH junior and policy/economics major Abby Boettcher. That was true for her — until this summer.
Boettcher, a 2019 APPLES summer intern with Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria, now knows that the county government’s work is immense.
A native of Cary, North Carolina, Boettcher spent her summer conducting policy research on a variety of issues, including increasing voter registration and reducing gun violence.
“I’m interested in a lot of topics on a national level,” Boettcher said, “And I’m getting to see it all play out on a local level.”
Calabria said the county funds the sheriff’s office, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and ambulance services, fire services, public libraries and one-third of the public education system — not to mention implementing virtually all federal and state human service program and managing land zoning, economic development and natural resources like the water supply.
“We have a tremendous impact,” Calabria said. “We’re where the rubber meets the road.”
Boettcher said the biggest challenge of her internship was making sure her research findings were relevant to Wake County. In her research, she examined what policy approaches work best in other parts of the country, and she wrote proposals outlining how and why those policies would work for Wake.
“The issues I’ve worked on are really pressing to the county,” she said. She looks forward to seeing the real-world results of her research.
“What Abby’s been doing is going to fuel a lot of my work for months,” Calabria said. “It’s been very easy to trust Abby with serious issues, and I think she’s responded in kind by producing high-level, thoughtful work. That will fuel policy outcomes in the future.”
Calabria, who grew up in Cornelius, North Carolina, said he loves working as a commissioner and finds that hosting APPLES interns is a meaningful part of his job.
“The dual purpose for me participating in this type of program is: first, to further my work in serving the community; and second, to give back to Carolina by providing what I hope will be a unique opportunity for students to see the inner workings of a large, sophisticated organization.”
Calabria served as student body president during his senior year at Carolina, and he said that experience was influential in his career path.
“I absolutely loved being at Carolina,” he said. “Carolina, more than just about any university in the country, has a very strong public service bent. It’s hard for me to imagine being at UNC-Chapel Hill and not having public service get under your skin in one way or another.”
Boettcher, for her part, said the internship was helpful as she builds a plan for her own career path.
“I went into this to find out whether I wanted to run for office or work on behind-the-scenes policy,” Boettcher said.
“This is exactly what I want to be doing,” she said. “After graduation I would love to work in D.C. for some time, probably with a policy nonprofit or a research group.”