** This story was originally published on May 7, 2019 **
At age 19, CASL student Jordan Wohl got a deep dive into how government works, jumping into UM-Dearborn’s Ottawa Internship Program, writing speeches and talking to constituents – and that was just his first day on the job.
Since its creation more than 30 years ago, the Ottawa Internship Program has had more than 600 American students from the University of Michigan and other universities participate in the leadership-training experience. It gives sophomores, juniors and seniors a first-hand look into the Canadian government through placement with a member of Parliament or Senior in the nation’s capital.
Last fall, Wohl joined other Ottawa Internship alumni at the home of Eric Nemeth (’85 B.A.), who participated in the program in 1984, and his wife, Paula (’85 B.A.), to share their experiences and highlight how others can support this internship program. Wohl is a recipient of a scholarship for the internship that the Nemeths established to help UM-Dearborn students be able to participate in the program.
The enthusiasm of that night inspired the Nemeths to want to do more for the program. To ensure the long-term future of the Ottawa Internship Program, they established a $50,000 endowment for operational and program support. And they are issuing a challenge to program alumni, university graduates, and the community to match their gift.
Nemeth, a tax attorney and former IRS Attorney and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, called his Ottawa experience transformational, especially for him as a young man of 21 from Southwest Detroit.
“It was a like a bootcamp,” Nemeth said fondly. “It was a short time, but it offered big lessons… The Canadian government and my host completely embraced the concept and the students – we were Americans and Canadians, both interested in learning more about each other and embracing the opportunity.”
Two decades later, Wohl’s experience was the same. The five-week program was an intensive, once-in-a-lifetime experience, said Wohl, and it taught him how to engage in the political process. Back home, it got him more deeply involved in campus life. These days, it informs what he wanted to do with his career, pushing him to become a community leader.
“I figured if I could manage a Parliament office in a foreign country, I could do anything when I got back,” Wohl said.
Nemeth said he and Paula want to support the Ottawa Internship with a challenge gift to engage donors with the Dearborn campus and its students. Support of this unique program (one of the only university-run Ottawa Internship Programs in the United States) not only provides for meaningful experiences but also shows students the community is invested in them, Nemeth said.
“It was important for Paula and I do to what we could to create a window for people,” Nemeth said, giving students like himself who otherwise could not afford a summer internship a chance to see another part of the world and political life there.
Wohl agrees. "If it wasn't for the unwavering support of my family and the Nemeth scholarship, Ottawa would have never happened for me,” he said. “I think about that often: had I not experienced the real life challenges that I overcame during my internship, there is no way that I would have had the confidence in my professional skills that has propelled so much of my work here on campus."
Wohl works as a marketing coordinator for the Union at Dearborn as well as in positions such as the Jewish Student Organization’s president and Civic Leadership Board as a community organizer. Having a scholarship for the Ottawa internship was another reason he could fully invest his time and talents there. In fact, Wohl was recognized in April as a University of Michigan-Dearborn Distinguished Student Leader.
“Having an experience of being in such an intensive environment has been extremely helpful,” Wohl said. “I had to be ready for anything that came into the office… (As a result,) it is easier now to take on challenges, to talk to people and to lead groups on campus.”