UA alumnus Leonard Bellisario, who transferred to UA to study politics through the Bliss Institute, is seen here with President Bill Clinton, whom he met last fall while working at the William J. Clinton Foundation.
For a young University of Akron alumnus interested in politics and public policy, there can be no greater classroom to learn more about both than the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City. For Leonard Bellisario, it was quite a way to start his internship with the William J. Clinton Foundation.
"I was thrown in to assist the communications manager," recalls Bellisario of the three-day event last September. "The Global Initiative draws 1,000 members for talks and panel discussions — it takes over several floors of a hotel. I helped draft media advisories, worked with staff members of a public relations firm, responded to press inquiries and escorted members of the press to various sessions. It was a busy time, and very exciting."
What prepared Bellisario for the opportunity were the classes he took after transferring to UA in 2008, and an internship prior to graduation in the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown.
Bellisario, who earned a B.A. in political science, cum laude in May 2010, along with a certificate in applied politics and a minor in business administration, says it was the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics that drew him to UA.
"I've always been interested in politics, public policy and current events, so political science was the perfect major for me," explains the Strongsville native. "I knew when I graduated from high school in 2006 that I wanted to go to Akron and the Bliss Institute."
Although accepted at UA, Bellisario, like so many transfer students, opted to save money by beginning college close to home. He completed his first two years of coursework at Cuyahoga Community College.
But he stayed on Karen Dickerson’s radar the whole time.
As director of UA's Transfer Student Services Center, Dickerson talked regularly with Bellisario so that he could be sure he was taking classes that would transfer.
"It was a seamless process. I appreciate all of Karen's help," Bellisario says.
"Leonard is a true Tri-C/Akron transfer student success story," says Dickerson. "Our center has worked to coordinate services for credit evaluation, preadmission advising and build stronger relationships with area community colleges. As a result, we've increased transfer student enrollment and helped improve their success here."
Once at UA, Bellisario says he knew he made the right choice.
"I liked the diversity of classes in political science, such as campaign management and the influence of religion on politics," he says. "I also enjoyed the online classes and discussions, and the real world experience we got through a number of different research projects. It was the emphasis on applied politics that drew me to the University."
Bellisario's first internship experience in Brown's senate office took him all over Capitol Hill as he attended committee hearings and briefings, or ran errands. He also did his fair share of the typical intern assignments — answering phones, helping with scheduling and drafting letters to constituents.
During his internship with the Clinton Foundation, after the work with the Global Initiative was finished, Bellisario's assignments included fact-checking, research projects and helping to prepare press advisories.
"The direct knowledge and experience I've gained through my internships is going to be very, very useful to me professionally," notes Bellisario. "I'm most interested in working in politics or in the nonprofit sector. Ideally, I’d like to have a long-term involvement in nonprofit work, perhaps in a policy analyst position."
He's well on his way.
Since January, Bellisario has been working for the Cleveland Foodbank on its annual Harvest for Hunger Campaign.