Thanks to a nearly $2 million donation from the estate of Diana Chudacoff Levin, USC College’s Unruh Institute of Politics is expanding its internship and scholarship programs.
Established in 1989, the Unruh Institute, a center in the political science department, aims to motivate USC students to be more active in politics and encourages political officials to be more involved in the daily life of the university.
In addition to hosting events that draw public figures to campus, the institute has a program that assists students with placement in the internship of their choice and, when possible, provides a stipend.
"These internships give students a new perspective on the political process," said Alison Dundes Renteln, director of the Unruh Institute and professor of political science. "They say these are life-changing experiences."
The gift establishes the Diana Chudacoff Levin Interns program, increasing the annual number of stipends for student internships from six to 20. Through the new Diana Chudacoff Levin Scholars program, $100,000 of additional funding per year will be available to deserving undergraduates through the internship programs sponsored by the Unruh Institute.
Many student interns go to Washington, D.C., to work in the offices of state and federal elected officials. Others opt to dedicate their internship to local political involvement.
A political science course (POSC 395) offered through the Unruh Institute enables students to receive academic credit for internships in legislative and other political offices. Students in the class write a paper about the political process or a policy question related to their internship experience.
Jeff Schneider, a Portland, Ore., native majoring in political science, spent last summer in the nation’s capital working for Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. Schneider received $2,000 in support from the Unruh Institute. As an intern in Wyden's press office, he drafted, edited and proofread speeches, press releases and Web content.
“The experience was really great,” Schneider said. “The Unruh’s intern program is pretty amazing. There are a lot of great opportunities out there, but because internships are unpaid, it limits the possible applicants. I think this donation will open up a lot of doors for people who otherwise couldn’t have that experience.”
The Unruh Institute is named for the late Jesse M. Unruh (B.A., political science and journalism, ’48), who served as Speaker of the California State Assembly and state treasurer during more than 30 years in state and local politics. He is perhaps best remembered for the Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959, which outlawed discrimination by California businesses. A small group of Unruh’s friends provides ongoing guidance and support to the institute’s staff.
One Unruh friend is USC Trustee Carmen Warschaw (B.A., social work, ’39). A family friend of Levin’s, she played an important role in securing the $2 million gift. Warschaw and Levin’s cousin, Lee Leader (B.A., history, ’71), the estate's executor, presented the bequest to the university.
“Carmen Warschaw has been a great supporter of the institute and I’ve been grateful for her guidance,” Renteln said.
Said Warschaw, “The Unruh Institute has tremendous potential to influence the lives of our students. In nurturing tomorrow’s leaders and cultivating a more informed electorate, the work of the institute can help to sustain our democracy by keeping people interested, active and voting.”
The large donation came as a surprise to the faculty of the political science department. The impact of the gift is profound because the money goes toward the Unruh Institute's endowment, providing funding in perpetuity.
“This gift is a remarkable act of generosity,” Renteln said. “The faculty applauded when it was announced in our department meeting. We are most grateful to those who made it possible. This was a wonderful piece of news because this funding will generate many student scholarships.”