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Former mayor bolsters public service interest

July 19, 2016

Andre Zhang Sonera, first Peterson Fellow.

Andre Zhang Sonera, a 2016 graduate of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, is the first Peterson Fellow, part of a new program to promote public service through internships.

Bart Peterson, a former two-term mayor of Indianapolis, has established the Peterson Fellows program at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. The program will provide an immersive one-year paid internship for a SPEA IUPUI graduate student who has a career interest in public service.

Fellowship recipients will work in partnership with the Indianapolis mayor's office on select projects that will address specific challenges in the city while also supporting the mayor's strategic plan and vision. Peterson Fellows will have the opportunity to work in other city departments as well, broadening their exposure to a wide variety of city leaders and service organizations.

Former mayor Bart Peterson

Former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson has established the Peterson Fellows program to promote careers in public service.

Peterson, who is a member of the school's Dean's Council, established the program as a way to provide students with hands-on experience in local government as they prepare for a future career in public service. 

"It has long been a dream of mine to support a fellowship within the mayor's office," said Peterson, who served as mayor of Indianapolis from 2000 to 2008. "When I was working with Gov. Evan Bayh's administration in the early 1990s, I was inspired by the work of the young men and women who served as Governor's Fellows. I wanted to do something similar for the city of Indianapolis, giving students who have an interest in a career in public service and civic leadership the opportunity to work within city government on projects that align with the mayor's initiatives."

Peterson Fellows will commit to work a minimum of 800 hours during their internship with the city and must remain in good academic standing, per SPEA IUPUI policies, for the duration of the program. The program will be managed at the city by Tim Moriarty, special counsel to Mayor Joe Hogsett. 

Andre Zhang Sonera, who graduated from SPEA IUPUI in May with a bachelor's degree in civic leadership, has been selected as the first Peterson Fellow. Zhang Sonera started his internship with the city in mid-June and will begin work on his Master of Public Affairs degree in August.

"The Peterson Fellows are an important part of Mayor Peterson's legacy to the city of Indianapolis," Hogsett said. "By investing in young people with a heart for public service, we will benefit not only from their ideas and energy but from the impact they will have on our community for decades to come. I am pleased to welcome Andre as the first Peterson Fellow and look forward to seeing him grow as a leader and public servant throughout the next year."

Zhang Sonera, who will study policy analysis at the graduate level, called the fellowship an amazing opportunity to expand on the knowledge he gained during previous internships at the Indiana Statehouse, the mayor's office in New York City and the White House.

"It gives me a chance to put into practice what I've learned in my undergraduate years, both at the state and federal level," he said. "To have the chance to interview with Mayor Hogsett and have him ask me about my interests was very welcoming and something that I was not expecting."

Though his interest in public service was sparked during his senior year of high school in Puerto Rico, it was his arrival at IUPUI and his participation in the Sam H. Jones Community Service Scholar program beginning his sophomore year that firmly rooted Zhang Sonera's civic-minded career path. He logged numerous volunteer hours with events such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and the United Way Day of Caring, among others. He also interned at the Ronald McDonald House of Indiana, where he translated documents and data to facilitate communication with Latinos.

As an operations intern at New York City's mayor's office, Zhang Sonera evaluated the treatment, quality of service and availability of interpretation services for Limited English Proficiency residents. He'll be working on similar language-access programs with the Indianapolis Office of Public Health and Safety, helping to ensure that Indianapolis LEP residents have equal access to city services.

During the fall semester of his junior year, Zhang Sonera worked as a White House intern as part of his participation in SPEA's Washington Leadership Program.

"That was when I really decided that I loved working in government and being part of public service," he said of his time in D.C. "Every time after that when I worked in a government office, I realized I was doing something that was helping others, and at the end of the day you feel like you're doing something that is contributing to the community. That's what I love about public service."

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