Junior Summer Institute: Reflections from an Alum

Ruby DeBellis, who just graduated from the Humphrey School, was in the School's first JSI cohort six years ago
June 14, 2023
Portrait of Ruby DeBellis
Ruby DeBellis (MS-STEP '23) credits her experience in the Junior Summer Institute at the Humphrey School in 2017 with helping her prepare for graduate school and her career plans in public policy. Photo: Bruce Silcox

Ruby DeBellis, a recent graduate of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, has an impressive list of accomplishments to her name: three-time commencement speaker—at her high school, college and graduate school; two influential internships; and a job with a high-profile United States senator, to name a few. Thanks, at least in part, to her participation in the Humphrey School’s Junior Summer Institute (JSI) program. 

JSI is an intensive seven-week training experience designed to prepare rising senior undergraduate students—mostly from underrepresented communities—to thrive in master’s degree programs and launch careers in public service.

Hosted by the University of Minnesota and five other universities nationwide, JSI is offered through the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Program, a national nonprofit that supports a variety of efforts to increase diversity in graduate studies in public policy, international affairs, and public service.

Each summer the Humphrey School hosts about two dozen students who apply for the JSI program, and DeBellis was in the very first cohort in 2017. 

Now, she’s a newly minted graduate of the School’s Master of Science in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy program, was chosen by her peers to as the student commencement speaker, and is working in the office of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.  

As the School welcomes its 2023 JSI cohort to campus this week, we asked DeBellis to reflect on her experience in the program and her future plans. 

Group photo of 2023 Junior Summer Institute fellows outside the Minnesota State Capitol building
The 2023 Junior Summer Institute fellows at the Minnesota State Capitol on June 13, 2023

Why did you choose the JSI program at the Humphrey School?  

At the time, I was about to enter my junior year at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and I had changed my major the previous year from biochemistry to political science. I decided to apply to the JSI program, even though I didn’t have much experience in public policy to write about [in my application]. But I knew I wanted to use my science background in some type of policy. Out of the six universities that host the JSI, I ranked the Humphrey School first. I wanted to stay and grow in Minnesota; I didn’t have an interest in going anywhere else. 

I had been thinking about graduate school, but wanted to take some time off after finishing my bachelor’s degree. JSI gave me a good look into what grad school would be like, and demystified what public policy is. It showed me that I didn’t need to become a lawyer or a senator with a political science degree. Coming here showed me all the avenues I could take in my career, in the public and private sector. 

What was most helpful? 

We had a lot of networking opportunities, for example, we visited the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Target’s corporate headquarters, and the state Capitol. In addition to the classes we took, we worked in teams on capstone projects, where we researched a public policy issue and made a presentation on our results. The emphasis on group work and collaboration put me in a “teamwork” mindset. All of that was really good preparation for grad school.  

The cohort was one of the best parts of the whole program. I still keep in touch with the people who went through JSI with me. I’ve come back twice to be on the JSI alumni panel, and gave this year’s alumni keynote address during JSI orientation. I like to talk it up to people as a good opportunity to explore graduate school in a lower pressure situation. 

How did JSI help you along your career path?

In 2018, I got an internship with the City of Morris to draft the city’s first-ever communications policy. I had taken these classes at the Humphrey School and they helped me make an impact in my city right away. That was an awesome outcome of the program. 

After I graduated from Morris, I had an internship with the Carlson Companies. Then I started working for Sen. Amy Klobuchar in October of 2018. I’m an outreach director for the senator on various topics including housing, public safety and law enforcement, women's issues, hunger, and Asian American community issues. It’s my job to plan and coordinate events and logistics related to those topics, and also represent the office at various events. 

What are your longer-term career goals?

I plan to continue working in Senator Klobuchar’s office for the near future, but I would like to pivot toward environmental issues at some point. The intersection of housing and environmental justice is what I’m passionate about now. I worked on that general issue in school as a research assistant for Associate Professor Bonnie Keeler, and it ties in well with my focus on housing in my role with Senator Klobuchar’s office. Down the road I would like to work in a state or federal agency, and use my interpersonal skills to lead a team. 

What are your biggest takeaways from the Humphrey School?

Being immersed in an environment with passionate, like-minded people working toward similar goals is affirming. I’m inspired by the notion that we’ll get to work together for common goals in the workforce, based on what we’ve learned together at the Humphrey School. 

The Humphrey School emphasizes a different way of thinking, of systems change. Students acknowledge that we need to look at the big picture, and we have a shared understanding of what we can accomplish if we all work together.