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Political Rise

As New Jersey politics spill onto the national stage, Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics steps into the spotlight

By Kristine Brown | Spring 2014

On The Map

The headlines said it all: Gov. Chris Christie wins landslide re-election. Christie cruises to second term. With big win, Christie set to wield power on national stage. But before the polls closed on the 2013 gubernatorial election in New Jersey, pundits and pollsters, press and politicos were asking: Would New Jersey’s governor run for president in 2016?

As speculation grew, reporters turned to experts for commentary and analysis. The national spotlight was shining bright on New Jersey, and Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics seized the opportunity to place itself on the map of political discourse.

Since 2008, Ben Dworkin has led the Rebovich Institute. Already known as one of New Jersey’s most insightful political analysts, national reporters sought him out to discuss the potential Christie-for-President campaign. Dworkin’s quotes appeared in USA Today, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. He sat for television interviews in New York. He talked to radio stations in New Orleans and Wisconsin. Even Canada’s Globe and Mail wanted his take on the future of New Jersey’s newly re-elected governor.

While the coast-to-coast attention Dworkin received was personally gratifying, what mattered most, he says, was the Institute and Rider earning national attention.

Originally founded in 2001 by Dr. David Rebovich as the Rider Institute for New Jersey Politics, the Institute has always been dedicated to public service and the scholarly analysis of government, public policy and campaigns. Rebovich was a beloved member of the Rider community and one of the state's best known non-partisan political commentator.

After Rebovich's untimely death in 2007, Rider President Mordechai Rozanski said, “A loss of this magnitude cannot be expressed in words. David’s contributions to our community, his passion for his work and his love of teaching were unsurpassed.”

Committed to maintaining the program’s future, Rider appointed Dworkin and re-named the Institute in Rebovich’s honor.  “My goal is to build on his tremendous legacy and passion – not just for politics, but for the students we teach and inspire every day to become the next generation of leaders,” Dworkin says.

To that end, Dworkin, who is also an adjunct assistant professor of political science, oversees all of the Institute’s operations, including programming and career guidance such as resume writing for students.

Beyond the Classroom

At the core of the Institute’s mission are internship opportunities, job placement and networking. “We strongly believe that internships are an essential element of an undergraduate career,” Dworkin says, pointing to how dramatically internships improve employment options for students. 

To assist students who take on unpaid internships, Dworkin initiated the Rebovich Intern Fellowship program, which supports Rider students with a tuition scholarship the semester following their internship. Scholarships currently range from $500 to $1000, and the Institute expects to award approximately $10,000 in fellowships for students interning this summer.

The Rebovich Intern Fellowships consists of two parts: an endowment that generates money annually for use as scholarships and targeted multi-year awards that link a donor with a Rider intern. Two such targeted awards are the Vainieri Huttle Intern Fellowship for Women in Politics, supported by New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, who attended Rider, and the Rebovich Intern Fellowship for Science and Politics, funded by an anonymous donor.

“The number one reason students don’t take on internships in politics or government is that the vast majority of these opportunities are unpaid positions,” Dworkin says. “Our students understand how important internships are, but the financial burden can make it difficult.”

Janine Jakubauskas ’11, an economics major who developed an interest in macroeconomic analysis during her time at Rider, worked with the Rebovich Institute to secure an internship with the chief economist of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. 

The following summer she landed an internship with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and her dream of working for the Fed turned into a reality when she was offered a full-time position before returning to school for her senior year.

"This is really a great example of how all that we do comes together to bring value to our students,” Dworkin says. 

The Rebovich Institute was vital in helping her develop skills not only inside the classroom but beyond it. "I was able to gain a competitive edge that helped lead to full-time employment at a job that was once just a dream," Jakubauskas says.  

In The Arena

When he’s not teaching or helping students secure internships, Dworkin is busy bringing top elected officials and other government leaders to campus to engage with students. In 2013, the Institute hosted, among others, then-Mayor, now-Senator Cory Booker; state Senator Barbara Buono, Democratic candidate for New Jersey Governor; U.S. Congressmen Frank Pallone (D) and Leonard Lance (R); and Steve Schmidt, a senior advisor to U.S. Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. 

Other Rebovich programs include an annual campaign post-mortem conference that examines the most intriguing New Jersey election from the previous year, brown bag lunches that offer students a chance to participate in off-the-record conversations with key people in government, and a congressional debate held every two years between the candidates for New Jersey’s 12th district, which includes Rider.

Looking to the future, Dworkin anticipates the interest in New Jersey politics to grow. Gov. Christie’s national ambitions and the recent scandal involving lane closures on the George Washington Bridge have only caused the national spotlight to shine that much brighter on the Garden State.

“I’m a kid in a candy store,” Dworkin says, laughing at how interest in New Jersey politics has gone national.  

“No matter what you do, politics will – at some point – intrude on your life,” he says. “Public service is a noble profession, and now more than ever, we need the Rebovich Institute to ensure that Rider makes a difference in how we govern ourselves in the future.” 

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