From University Hill to Capitol Hill
Matthew O’Leary ’15 is using his Syracuse degree to break into politics
Many students do internships throughout their college careers. But how many can lay claim to the being “Intern of the Year”? Matthew O’Leary ’15, for one.
O’Leary interned at the New York State Assembly in Albany. It was there, under the supervision of Assemblymen Gary D. Finch and Bill Nojay, that he got a crash-course in state government and the legislative process. Balancing a rigorous academic curriculum with the experiential and theoretical, O’Leary was able to put his liberal arts training into action.
The result, he says, was a well-structured, practical learning experience, resulting in top honors at the internship program’s annual awards ceremony.
“Being in Albany was pretty amazing,” says O’Leary, who majored in history and political science in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. “I got to do lots of different things, in addition to conducting research and providing administrative support. The internship has given me an advantage in today’s competitive job market.”
The Assembly’s assistant minority leader, Finch considered O’Leary an integral part of his team during a “most unconventional session”—one likely to be remembered for Sheldon Silver’s resignation as Assembly Speaker and for the state budget being late. “[Matthew] exhibited a willingness to take on new challenges, did not shy away from hectic situations, and always reached out with a warm and welcoming demeanor to all whom entered our office,” wrote Finch, adding that O’Leary wrote many letters when “appointments were frequent and diverse” and managed legislation, from bill drafting to introduction.”
O’Leary attributes much of his success to a strong work ethic and supportive faculty. In the case of the latter, he is especially appreciative of Tess Slater, his academic advisor in the political science department, who suggested that he intern in Albany. “I owe a lot to her,” O’Leary says. “That internship was the highlight of my college career.”
Slater returns the compliment. “Matthew is not your average college student,” she says. “He is more than prepared for life after college than most, and will achieve great things. His serious demeanor and thirst for knowledge will certainly help him succeed.”
Born and raised in the shadow of the University, O’Leary attended Liverpool High School, where he divided time between studying and downhill skiing. Although he looked at other colleges and universities, they paled in comparison to Syracuse. “I ultimately chose the University because I was impressed with its academics, and I was quite familiar with the campus culture,” O’Leary says. Delving into the school and the surrounding community, O’Leary felt right at home and volunteered at AURORA of Central New York, which serves people who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, hard of hearing, late deafened and deaf blind. “Syracuse, the college and city, seemed like a perfect fit.”
With college and an award-winning internship behind him, O’Leary hopes to break into Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist. “Syracuse University has given me the skills I need to go far,” he says. “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I’m excited about what lies ahead.”