Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Foundation for Success: For nearly 60 years, publicly minded college students have flocked to Harrisburg as Finnegan fellows.

Joshua Getz, Lyvia Toth, Tara O’Toole

Jaclyn Victor doesn’t mince words when asked about her career goals.

“I would like to be governor of Pennsylvania someday,” Victor, a recipient of the James A. Finnegan Foundation Fellowship, stated rather matter-of-factly.

Sure, it’s a lofty goal, but Finnegan Fellowship Foundation representatives weren’t surprised to hear it. After all, Victor, a senior political science major at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, was one of a handful of college students from across Pennsylvania to be named a Finnegan fellow in 2017.

This summer, the fellowship program marks its 58th year with four more select college students, who are working in Harrisburg as paid state government interns.

Finnegan fellow Patrick McKenna, an incoming junior, said he was all ready to head to Harrisburg following his last exam at Gettysburg College. The 20-year-old public policy and political science major is spending his summer working in the state Department of Labor’s office of policy planning and development.

“I’m excited,” McKenna said. “I’m doing a mix of researching legislation, helping out with the press, and sitting in on meetings. I want to work in public service.”

McKenna and incoming Gettysburg College senior Joshua Getz, another 2018 Finnegan fellow, both said they liked best the weekly luncheons with their cabinet secretaries. Getz, 21, was assigned to work in the state Human Relations Commission. The political science and history major’s future plans include “teaching in higher education and doing research,” he said.

The James Finnegan Fellowship is offered each year to undergraduate students who have completed at least one semester at an accredited Pennsylvania college or university or to Pennsylvania residents who have done so elsewhere. Internships usually last eight to 10 weeks, running from late May until mid- or late August.

Students are selected for the program by a panel of judges under the supervision of the Finnegan Foundation board. Judges consider applicants’ backgrounds, civic endeavors and career interests, as well as an essay based on a public policy theme. This year’s essay asked applicants, “Do you support or oppose a tax on soda?” Winners are announced in late March of each year at a luncheon held at the Governor’s Residence.

In addition to internships that are paid by the commonwealth, Finnegan fellows are awarded cash stipends by the foundation. The number of fellows selected each year depends on the foundation’s available funds, but it usually ranges between four and eight.

Also serving as Finnegan interns this summer are Tara O’Toole, an incoming senior at Washington and Jefferson College, and Lyvia Toth, who is entering her second year at Juniata College. O’Toole, a political science and business administration major, was assigned to the state Department of Revenue. Toth, who is studying international politics, is spending the summer working in the Public Utility Commission.

“The fellowship is intended to encourage young people to public service,” noted attorney Joseph Powers, the foundation’s vice president and an essay judge. “We grew up in an era when people in public service generally were honored. Now, in some cases, they’re disparaged. This program is so that it encourages young people into public life.”

The nonprofit James Finnegan Fellowship Foundation was established in 1960 to honor the memory of James A. Finnegan, who died at age 52 in March 1958. Finnegan had an extensive career of public service in Pennsylvania that included time as secretary of the commonwealth under former Gov. George M. Leader.

“James Finnegan’s friends wanted to do something for him when he died,” explained Powers, who retired after 37 years in state government.

Foundation Treasurer Kathy Speaker MacNett, who also serves as a panel judge, is well aware of how a Finnegan fellowship “opens a lot of doors” for recipients.

Speaker MacNett herself was awarded the fellowship in 1968 while attending Immaculata College, now known as Immaculata University. She since has had a long and illustrious career in state government and law.

Gathoni Jenkins was appointed as a Finnegan fellow in 1993 after immigrating to the United States from Kenya to attend Immaculata College. Today, she is a successful marketing research consultant in Wilmington, Del. She remembers her internship with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare as “such an incredible experience.”

Today, Speaker MacNett holds a picnic at her home for each year’s Finnegan fellows.

“It’s all a lot of continuity for me,” she said. “To me, the experience has opened up a lot of doors.”

For more information about the Finnegan Fellowship Foundation or to donate funds, contact Executive Director Jatoya K. Moore at 717-233-1000 or or visit

Photo by Billy Hicks. 

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