BRADFORD, Pa. -- Ernest Benkovski, a history-political science major from Pittsburgh studying at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, will be taking a keen interest in the Nov. 6 election.
His boss from his summer internship, U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D.-Pa., is up for re-election. Benkovski spent his summer in a flurry of staff meetings and event briefings, drafting letters, attending high-level political soirees, and monitoring every media source on the planet for any incident, change in public opinion, or noteworthy press release that might be of interest to the senator.
As an intern in Casey's office, Benkovski had a vast amount of research and writing to do in addition to his other duties. "It's a good thing I did well in my English classes," he said.
Benkovski started his trek with his work with Dr. William Schumann III, assistant professor of anthropology, and the Appalachian Regional Commission and its mission to foster viable community and economic growth in Appalachia. Benkovski took an Applied Anthropology course last fall that gauged local opinions on developing the Bradford area into a "hot spot" for trail activities. Last December, the students traveled to Washington, D.C., to present their findings to the ARC.
Schumann said, "Ernest quickly demonstrated a willingness to take on new challenges, accept responsibility, and work in a positive manner on real-world projects. It has been a pleasure working with him at Pitt Bradford."
For Benkovski's part of the project, he attended town hall meetings and helped Schumann apply for grants to assist rural Pennsylvania breathe life into the tourism trade, specifically outdoor recreation, in an effort to redefine and recreate the image of the region's assets and capacities. Benkovski credits Schumann with giving him "a greater passion for environmental justice" and for helping him to "hone a lot of skills, especially through research projects."
Benkovski's skills from Pitt-Bradford came in handy during his internship when assisting in a case involving Pennsylvania well water regulations, or lack thereof. "We have limited-to-no groundwater regulations," Benkovski said. "There are many instances of loophole-based dumping that destroy the very essence of our environment." Benkovski was faced with this hard fact when a woman approached the senator's office explaining that she and her children had contracted cancer through contaminated well water.
That case showed Benkovski how politics and politicians can affect the lives of everyday people. He encourages everyone to "get involved with politics because change lies in the hands of the people." Benkovski cites that every piece of mail and correspondence that comes into the Senator's office is read and given attention. "The people do have a voice. Whether it's something far-fetched or a woman worried about cancer. Everyone is heard, no matter how soft the voice was, no matter how small the concern was viewed. Decisions were made in the greatest interest of the commonwealth, the people, and the nation."
Benkovski plans to graduate in the spring and hopes for a position in the White House or in the U.S Department of the Interior in the near future. He plans to continue to lobby for the environment and is confident that he can help to nurture positive change.