In 2016, the Washington Leadership Program (WLP) celebrates its 30th anniversary at SPEA. Since 1985, more than 1,000 students have made the nation’s capital their campus for a semester through WLP, taking classes while interning at places including the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
But WLP has more than just a milestone to celebrate, thanks to a $50,000 gift from SPEA and WLP alum Matt Gentile: the Gentile Family Washington Leadership Program Scholarship will ensure that IU students from all backgrounds will have the opportunity to participate in this career-launching program for years to come.
- Mr. Gentile goes to Washington
Gentile came to IU to study environmental affairs with plans to go into environmental law. He started taking graduate coursework at SPEA as a junior, and his law school applications were submitted long before he started a White House internship during the final semester of his senior year.
“I had never considered a career in Washington before, but a close friend who had completed the program a year earlier encouraged me to apply,” Gentile recalls of his start with WLP.
Gentile landed in D.C. early in President Bill Clinton’s first term in the winter of 1993. Upon taking up residence in the White House, Clinton promptly pledged to cut and cap White House staffing levels, which meant that a lot of the workload was left to be shouldered by unpaid interns. Gentile was one of the few interns who hadn’t previously worked on Clinton’s presidential campaign, so he had to work doubly hard to get up to speed on the policy issues at hand. But what Gentile lacked in political connections he quickly made up through determination and hard work.
As he got know his fellow interns and staffers, Gentile noticed that many of the environmental advocates he worked alongside had law degrees but weren’t practicing law. He began to reconsider his law school applications and wondered about other ways he could champion environmental concerns.
- From intern to insider
Midway through his WLP semester, a full-time position opened in the White House office where Gentile was interning. He scored the post and took his first paid vacation day to return to Bloomington to walk at graduation.
During his years at the White House Office of Environmental Policy, Gentile tackled issues ranging from protecting wild Pacific salmon to combating global climate change. He also managed correspondence to the Hill and to the NGO community—a rewarding opportunity to learn about the concerns of various stakeholders and to work toward consensus building.
Gentile did a bit of speechwriting and advance work which gave him exposure to President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Much of Gentile’s time at the White House was devoted to Clinton’s Climate Change Action Plan. Through his work on climate change, Gentile discovered that he enjoyed the challenge of working on complex, multi-party disputes.
He read Breaking the Impasse: Consensual Approaches to Resolving Public Disputes by MIT and Harvard professor Lawrence Susskind, who encouraged him to enroll in graduate school at MIT. Though Gentile was reluctant to leave his post at the White House, he ultimately transitioned out of policy and into the tech industry, where his work with GIS modeling has kept him connected to natural resource management issues.
The gift of opportunity
Gentile says that his motivation for giving was simple: “WLP launched my career. Looking back, there aren’t many things you can point to in life as a seminal event, but WLP was that for me.”
The Gentile Family Washington Leadership Program Scholarship will allow IU students with financial need to benefit from the opportunities like the ones Gentile experienced through WLP. His $50,000 gift was matched dollar-for-dollar through the IU Bicentennial Campaign, doubling its impact.
Gentile appreciated the chance to focus his gift on creating opportunity, and he hopes to take an active, hands-on role in bringing Hoosier students to the nation’s capital. “There are plenty of Ivy Leaguers inside the Beltway,” he notes, “but the kinds of students coming from IU are the ones we need more of in D.C. We need their grit and scrappiness. [Hoosier students] are very bright, but many of them have never been given the exposure and the opportunity to launch a career, and that’s what WLP gives them.”
To students considering WLP, Gentile says, “You might think you’ll miss out on college life by spending a whole semester in D.C. But the truth is, you’ll miss out by choosing not to participate in WLP.”
To his WLP peers who might be considering ways to give back, Gentile says, “If WLP was something that accelerated a career or sparked your passion – help create the same opportunity that you had for others. If you can, join me in building the WLP scholarship program.”Learn more about the WLP Learn more about Matt Gentile Find ways to give
If WLP was something that accelerated a career or sparked your passion – help create the same opportunity that you had for others. If you can, join me in building the WLP scholarship program.– Matt Gentile