Students Experience Policy Making Firsthand at State Capitol

Melvin Ally

Ally Melvin is currently interning in the Budget Office of Gov. Jay Nixon.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., April 23, 2014 – Southeast Missouri State University economics and philsophy major Ally Melvin is getting an inside track on the Missouri state budget while interning this semester in the office of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

She attends hearings and drafts briefs while working in both houses of the General Assembly in Jefferson City, Mo.

“I attend weekly liaison meetings with the Governor’s Office. I write bill reviews. I work on side projects when needed. I listen to the House and Senate floor discussions as well,” she said.

Melvin is among five political science majors at Southeast completing internships in Jefferson City this semester. The others are serving with legislative leaders in the Missouri State Capitol.

The Southeast students and the offices in which they are interning in Jefferson City are:

  • Ally Melvin of West Frankfort, Ill. – Budget Office of Gov. Jay Nixon
  • Hayley Bohnert of Jackson, Mo. – Senator Scott Sifton – Missouri Senate District 1
  • Sarah Pursley of Mexico, Mo. – Senator Wayne Wallingford – Missouri Senate District 27
  • Desari Robinette of Festus, Mo. –  Sen. Brian Munzlinger – Missouri  Senate District  18
  • Raven Lanier of La Center, Ky. – Representative Kathryn Swan – Missouri House District 147

Each internship began in January, around a week before the start of the Spring 2014 semester, and will run to early or mid-May, coinciding with the spring legislative session.  Students interning at the capitol have a wide variation in career goals, but agree this opportunity will enhance their careers in the future.

“This will help my future aspirations greatly,” Robinette said. “The connections and experience I am building will help me to connect with future employers and clients as I enter into the growing field of public relations and political science. I am not only trying to leave college educated, but also with tons of experience.”

“Because I have to contact and converse with so many unfamiliar people on a daily basis, it has made me much more confident and comfortable in speaking with strangers at the very least,” Bohnert said. “Also, it has made me pay much more attention to detail in my work because at my internship, a seemly minor detail, like the difference between the words ‘shall’ and ‘may’ in a bill, is a huge deal. My internship will hopefully help me in the future because of the connections I have made through networking.”

Melvin says she plans to pursue an advanced degree in either law school or graduate school after graduating from Southeast and that this experience is a step in that direction.

Dr. Rick Althaus, professor of political science, has assisted students in their internship search for a number of years. He stresses the importance of both the action and academic component of the experience and how students can utilize this opportunity for a greater understanding of the course material.

Swan Kathy intern

Rep. Kathryn Swan, standing, with intern Raven Lanier

“First and foremost, we want them to have had a meaningful educational experience,” said Althaus. “We want them to see some of the ‘real-world’ applications and ramifications of some of the things they have been learning about in class.   I know from my own student experiences about the value of internships.  Some political nuances, for example, are difficult for a professor to fully explain in class, but they are sometimes more easily grasped out in the actual setting or context.”

Over the years, Southeast has placed interns in a variety of governmental and nonprofit organizations, Althaus said.  Interns have worked with local attorneys, the county Prosecuting Attorney’s office, other county officials, and members of both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.  Some students also intern during the summer in their hometowns, he said.

“During election years, we usually have several students interning in campaign positions, most frequently with individual candidates, but sometimes with political party organizations,” Althaus said.

He continued, “I should add that quite a few of our former interns have gone on to positions of employment after their internship experience.  We have had more students than I can recount employed later in positions in Missouri government, Congress, political campaigns, nonprofit organizations, and the executive branch of the U.S. national government.”

Althaus says interns can earn up to 12 degree credit hours for their experience. In return, they immerse themselves in government experiences, keep a journal, complete reading assignments, write short summary papers, keep a portfolio of their work and write a final paper analyzing their experience.

“Most of these internship portfolios are quite impressive in quality, and sometimes, also in quantity,” Althaus said.

Southeast’s Department of Political Science, Philosophy and Religion is proud to send this semester’s group of interns to Jefferson City, he says.

“They are exceptional, and we are grateful to have had this opportunity to showcase the high-quality students we have at Southeast,” he said.

Legislative interns note their duties are expansive and cover a lot of ground. They attend hearings held by legislative committees, draft briefings on policy introduced in the chambers and working with the constituents of the districts, they say. However, each student’s duties slightly vary.

“I often do research on particular issues that will be coming up in committee or on the floor. I also research material that aids my senator in defending his legislation in committee and on the floor,” said Robinette.

Bohnert said, “Many different organizations come to the senator looking for him to sponsor a bill or propose an amendment and I am responsible for reading through the proposed amendment and the bill it would amend to find the exact differences in the two.”

These students are part of a long history of Southeast alumni who have interned in Jefferson City and have later become active in various forms of politics.

Student interns were selected through an application process and subsequent interviews with a number of different individuals. The students say they are pleased with their experiences and will be able to leave with vigor that will better prepare them for the future.

“I enjoy the atmosphere and learning more about how government works,” said Melvin.

Bohnert added, “My favorite part is having the senator as a mentor; he always takes the time to clearly explain what is going on and is patient when guiding me through what he wants me to do.”

Robinette says, “I am fortunate enough to work for a senator that values her workers in the office and presents me with tasks that help me utilize things I have learned within my classes at Southeast. I guess overall this internship helps me see the reality of the workforce and will give me a tremendous amount of experience.”