By Kristie Thorson, Communications Specialist
You’ve heard the phrase “the more the merrier”? This legislative session, Think Small made the decision to host two Todd Otis Public Policy interns. The internship will allow Helen Sabrowsky and Jacqueline Zhang, both students at the University of Minnesota, to learn firsthand about early learning policy in the state.
“We realized there is a big opportunity this legislative session. It’s a budget year,” said Marie Huey, Public Policy & Advocacy Coordinator at Think Small. “The pandemic has highlighted how essential child care is. Meetings are being held virtually. These unique conditions seemed like a great time to lean in and seize the possibilities of bringing on two interns with all their skills and energy.”
Todd Otis, a former Minnesota lawmaker and early education advocate, retired from his role of Senior Vice President of External Relations at Think Small in 2017. The internship was established to honor Otis’s lifelong advocacy career and his work as a change-agent in early childhood. The interns will work with Think Small’s policy team to advance the organization’s public policy priorities.
Helen Sabrowsky grew up attending a family child care program in New Brighton, Minnesota. She started helping out there while in high school and continues to work there today.
“It has been such a joy, especially during the pandemic, to go interact with children in person and to watch them despite all the challenges, still grow and thrive,” said Sabrowsky.
Sabrowsky is a Senior at the University of Minnesota studying Professional Journalism. She wrote many stories for Minnesota Daily, but in the last year, her career goals have drastically changed — shifting from straight journalism into more of a communications role.
“As of recent, I have had more of a desire to turn a lot of the advocacy I was trying to do through journalism into action,” said Sabrowsky. “I’m really interested in the intersection of policy and communications because I think access to quality information creates a stronger public.”
Past internships with a political campaign and an immigration organization have motivated her to explore more advocacy options which is how she landed at Think Small. She hopes her time here will help her better understand the innerworkings of the state legislature and really learn how organizations can work together to create policy that makes a difference for communities.
“There are those horrible, horrible achievement gaps that really impede some Minnesotans from getting the education they need — starting with early education where many are starting kindergarten not ready,” said Sabrowsky. “I’m really looking forward to becoming a more effective advocate for children.”
Sabrowsky grew up in Moundsview, Minnesota. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends.
Over the summer, her interest in gardening grew — a hobby she plans to continue. She also is a budding artist who can often be found creating beautiful sketches and drawings.
Our second intern Todd Otis Public Policy intern, Jacqueline Zhang, is a Junior at the University of Minnesota studying Economics and Political Science.
“I’m 100% interested in policy but I think there are a lot of avenues you can take,” Zhang said. “Do you want to be an elected official, or a researcher, or a lobbyist? So, I want to get experience in as many different roles as I can to see what I enjoy most.”
Jacqueline participates in various student groups at the U of M, including the Asian Pacific American Resource Center and College Democrats. Most recently she interned at the office of Congressman Dean Phillips. Zhang said she really enjoyed her experience working in a congressional office, especially the opportunity to talk with constituents, but thinks she’ll likely go in a different direction.
“I’d rather dedicate my time, energy, and effort into a cause rather than a person if that makes sense,” Zhang said. “I don’t know if there is any politician that I support 100%, so I would rather pursue a career or put my time into more of a general cause that affects a lot of people, not just a particular district.”
Zhang’s career goals are fairly wide open at this point. She sees herself working for the government, a non-profit that does specific policy work, or possibly even doing research for a think tank.
“A lot of what I like to do is grass roots organizing, talking to people, being in my community and advocating for folks that are marginalized,” Zhang said. “I definitely want to do something within the policy realm having to do with human well-being.”
Because of the pandemic, Zhang is living at home again with her family in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. She says school takes up most of her time, but she is also trying to engage in learning outside of an academic setting.
“I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts, trying to read more books, read more articles, trying to go to more events, webinars, and conferences,” she said. “I’m trying to get away from just an academic mindset and enrich myself to be more of a well-rounded person.”
Jacqueline will be spending part of her time working with Dianne Haulcy, Think Small’s Senior Vice President of Family Engagement, to help support the Voices and Choices for Children Coalition.