Gentile Family Scholarship

Gentile Family Scholarship

Ensuring IU students continue 30-year tradition of D.C. experience

Story by Emily Cox

"My friend said I should do it.”

These are famous opening words to many a college tale—but in Matt Gentile’s case, they marked the beginning of a pivotal transformation. I had never considered a career in Washington before, but a friend who had completed the Washington Leadership Program a year earlier encouraged me to apply.

Gentile came to IU to study environmental affairs with plans to go into environmental law. But when he was offered an internship at the White House during the final semester of his senior year through SPEA’s Washington Leadership Program (WLP), he decided to put his law school applications on hold to explore environmental policy from a different angle.

Over the course of his WLP semester, Gentile collected his fair share of typical intern memories: missing the last Metro train of the night and having to scrounge up $40 for cab fare, proudly conducting West Wing tours for friends and family, and posing for photos with Socks, the Clinton family cat. However, he also recognized that by working in the White House Office on Environmental Policy, he was in a unique position to acquire substantive experience with issues that interested him.

Gentile landed in Washington early in President Bill Clinton’s first term. Clinton promptly pledged to cut and cap White House staffing levels, which left a lot of the workload to be shouldered by unpaid interns. As one of the few interns who hadn’t previously worked on Clinton’s presidential campaign, Gentile had to work doubly hard to get up to speed on the policy issues at hand. But what he lacked in political connections he quickly made up through determination and hard work.

WLP launched my career. Looking back, there aren’t many things you can point to in life as a seminal event, but WLP was that for me.

From intern to insider

Midway through his WLP semester, a full-time position opened in the White House office where Gentile was interning. He scored the post and took his first paid vacation day to return to Bloomington to walk at graduation.

During his years at the White House Office of Environmental Policy, Gentile tackled issues ranging from protecting wild Pacific salmon to promoting Clinton’s Climate Change Action Plan. He also managed correspondence to the Hill and to the NGO community—a rewarding opportunity to learn about the concerns of various stakeholders and to work toward consensus building.

Gentile did a bit of speechwriting and advance work, which, though hectic at times, gave him exposure to President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. One of Gentile’s favorite memories was planning the 1995 Earth Day ceremony at the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace, Maryland—despite the fact that, to his great disappointment, it proved too difficult to get the POTUS to take a photo op from the deck of a Skipjack under sail.

Though Gentile was reluctant to leave his post at the White House, he went to graduate school in the Boston area and ultimately transitioned out of policy and into the tech industry, where his work with GIS modeling has kept him connected to natural resource management issues. Now, nearly two decades after completing his internship through WLP, Gentile has returned to Washington, where he works as a Principal and analytics leader in the Risk & Resilience practice at Deloitte and serves on the National Geospatial Advisory Committee. He lives with his family in Great Falls, Virginia.

The gift of opportunity

To allow IU students with financial need to benefit from the opportunities he experienced through WLP, Gentile recently endowed the Gentile Family Washington Leadership Program Scholarship. His $50,000 gift was matched dollar-for-dollar through the IU Bicentennial Campaign, doubling its impact.

Gentile’s motivation for giving was simple: “WLP launched my career. Looking back, there aren’t many things you can point to in life as a seminal event, but WLP was that for me.”

Gentile appreciated the chance to focus his gift on creating opportunity, and he hopes to take an active, hands-on role in bringing Hoosier students to the nation’s capital. “There are plenty of Ivy Leaguers inside the Beltway,” he notes, “But the kinds of students coming from IU are the ones we need more of. We need their grit and scrappiness. [Hoosier students] are very bright, but many of them have never been given the exposure and the opportunity to launch a career in Washington, and that’s what WLP gives them.”

Since 1985, more than 1,000 students have completed WLP, taking classes while interning at places like the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. To fellow WLP alumni who might be considering ways to give back, Gentile says, “If WLP was something that accelerated a career or sparked your passion—help create the same opportunity that you had for others. If you can, join me in building the WLP scholarship program.”