For Johnny Wiley, a New York City-Based Fellowship is Leading to International Internship Opportunities

John Wiley
January 25, 2018

Johnny Wiley, a Government and Politics major from Uniondale, NY, is the third St. John’s University undergraduate since 2014 to be awarded the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship—a three-year international internship program funded by the Thomas J. Watson Foundation. Johnny, now a sophomore, was awarded the scholarship in the spring semester of his freshman year.

“It was a little nerve-racking because I was the only freshman in New York City to apply for the fellowship,” Johnny said of the application experience. “These are some of the top students in New York City, so, it is very gratifying to be selected.”

Each year, 15 students are selected for the fellowship from 12 partner colleges in New York City. The Watson Foundation then helps each fellow secure paid internships that take place over three successive summers.

David Rosenthal, Ph.D., Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, worked closely with Johnny throughout the application process, and observed that his dedication to fighting for social justice is the source of his drive to excel in school. “His desire to make a difference in the world has led him to take an interdisciplinary approach to his studies, combining government and politics, sociology, and history,” said Dr. Rosenthal, who is also a member of St. John’s Watson Nomination Committee. “The Watson Fellowship is Johnny’s launch pad.”

A Watson Fellow’s first internship must take place in New York City; the second can be anywhere in the US or abroad; and the final must be overseas. Fellows also participate in a wide variety of preprofessional and cultural activities and events. Johnny joins former St. John’s Watson winners Trevor Farland ’17C, a Government and Politics major who was awarded a fellowship in 2014, and Sylvie Do-Vu, a Sociology and Anthropology double major who became a fellow in 2016 and plans to graduate in 2019.

Through the fellowship, Johnny interned over the summer of 2017 at the international law firm Shearman & Sterling, LLP. There, he worked in a group on pro bono cases involving wage theft, immigration, unaccompanied minors, and more. The experience helped to reinforce a lesson he learned at an early age.

“My parents always taught me you can do more with the law than you can with your fist,” he said. “Through this internship, I saw firsthand how to use the law as a tool to fight for justice and promote social change.”

Johnny has always been civic-minded. Before enrolling at St. John’s, he volunteered with a local voter registration effort; a nonprofit organization that dealt with foreclosed homes in his community; and the NAACP. As an undergraduate, he is involved in service-learning activities, including the Midnight Run, a late-night delivery of food and clothing to the homeless in New York City. He also served as a student panelist at both of the University’s “Meet the Candidates” nights held in advance of the 2017 local elections. A member of the College Democrats organization, he also traveled to Albany, NY, with classmates as part of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities’ New York Student Aid Alliance Advocacy Day.

“My dad used to say, ‘If you are able to help someone along the way, then you did not live your life in vain,’” Johnny said. “Throughout my life, I want to be there to help others.”

When his summer internship concluded, Johnny traded in his dress shoes for work boots and went to work at his father’s construction company, an experience he cherishes. “I do not think people my age get exposed to two completely different work environments over the course of one summer,” he said. “I am blessed to have had the opportunity to experience both.” Johnny is now in the process of applying for his second summer internship through the Watson Fellowship and is deciding whether to stay in the US or go abroad. “If I stay here, I would be interested in working with an organization that advocates for the advancement of people of color,” he said. “If I go abroad, I would be interested in international organizations like International Criminal Court, the U.S. Department of State, or The Brookings Institution. Either way, I want to be in a situation where I can make a difference. St. John’s University is preparing me to do that.”