When Kim Hibbard ’11 joined the Chicago Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives (ATF) for a summer internship, she was in for a challenge. Tasked with substantial responsibilities right away in an agency that deals with both regulatory and criminal matters, Hibbard was exposed to a broad range of legal issues. She quickly learned that her summer would be unpredictable. “I never knew what legal issue I would encounter next; there was no such thing as a ‘typical’ case or task, which made the internship that much more interesting and enjoyable.”
Hibbard researched dozens of issues confronting ATF and helped determine the best administrative channels for particular agency goals. She explained that the majority of the issues centered on the Gun Control Act, the National Firearms Act, or any number of questions from field agents. For example, she would work on “straw purchase” cases, in which an individual illegally purchases a gun for another—normally a convicted felon. The Bureau’s job is to establish that the purchase took place, find the link between the purchaser and the felon, and refer and make recommendations to Assistant United States Attorneys. ATF attorneys and agents work together throughout the process.
“The highlight of the internship was not one thing but many, all of which confirmed my passion for working in the public sector and specifically, in an administrative agency,” Hibbard said. One such highlight was her participation in an ATF attorney conference where she not only learned about and handled a number of weapons, but she also was able to network with officials from five regional offices. She also had extensive interaction with the Bureau’s Chief Counsel from Washington, D.C. “We sat next to each other at dinner. It turned out that his son had just graduated from Penn State, so it was a great conversation starter and we had a lot to talk about.” Shortly afterward, Hibbard and her fellow intern traveled to Washington, D.C. to spend a few days at ATF headquarters. “Getting an understanding of the branches and then headquarters gave me an appreciation for what both offices do,” she said.
Hibbard attributes her successful summer internship to a number of Penn State Law experiences. “My student mentor, Stephanie Hill (’10), helped connect me to the Chicago office. I interviewed over Christmas break and had a verbal commitment by February.” She said that her writing electives, taught by Professor Mary Kaye Polacheck
, gave her the skills and confidence necessary to develop legal memos and documents for her ATF supervisors. She also felt comfortable researching and analyzing complex administrative law issues because of her experience working as a research assistant for her administrative law professor Jamison Colburn
. Equally important was the support and guidance she received throughout the summer from Professor Colburn and Professor Michele Vollmer
, who have both worked in administrative agencies. “Professors at Penn State genuinely care about your interests and future; even outside of the classroom setting they are always an email or a phone call away.” Hibbard also believes that her externship last year with the Blair County DA’s office gave her experience working with law enforcement officials.
“Working in downtown Chicago, with a window office in an environment where I hope to one day be employed…that’s hard to beat,” said Hibbard. “I can honestly say that without the Penn State education that I have received, the faculty relationships that I have made, and the networking opportunities that the Penn State name has provided, I would not have found my ideal internship.”