At the State Capitol interns learn policy-making first-hand.
It's the middle of the 2011 legislative session and the Connecticut State Capitol is teeming with activity. The Connecticut General Assembly is in session today, and the house and senate have just convened for a joint session as the state works to close a $1 billion budgt gap. The pace is quickening, and Legislative Intern Meghan Mahder is in the thick of things.
“On session days I’m usually running back and forth between the Senate chamber and the senator’s office,” says the Trinity College junior who is a political science major with a minor in legal studies. This semester she’s interning in the office of Connecticut State Senator Paul Doyle, a third-term Democrat from the Ninth District.
But even on non-session days, Mahder’s work as a legislative intern is far from boring.
“Much of my work involves responding to constituent phone calls and letters,” says Mahder. “The range of things that move people to call the senator is really interesting, and sometimes just listening is what they need most.” Mahder also attends committee meetings, caucuses, public hearings, and attended the governor’s budget address. “You really get to see what happens when there are no cameras.”
Mahder is one of about a dozen Trinity students participating in the College’s selective, semester-long Legislative Internship Program. Students who are accepted into the program interview for full- or part-time positions with members of the Connecticut General Assembly, where they learn first-hand about the political and legislative process. Additionally, they participate in a weekly seminar given by the Political Science Department, which supplements their day-to-day work with theory and scholarship on the subject of legislatures.
“It’s interesting to compare my experience in the Connecticut General Assembly to other legislatures in the country,” says Mahder. “But even my experience in Senator Doyle’s office is different from my classmates’ experiences in the same program. For example, I work for the majority, and some of my friends work for the minority. Each member is involved in different committees and issues.”
Professor of Political Science Diana Evans directs the program, which began in the early 1970s under Professor of Political Science Clyde McKee. “The internship program helps students put their classroom work in context,” explains Evans. “It brings politics and policy-making vividly to life in a way that is harder to do in the classroom.
“Once students get involved in the legislative process, they become less cynical about government,” Professor Evans says. “They see that people work really hard to solve the state’s problems—regardless of party—and that public service is a noble calling.”
The program typically attracts political science majors, but Evans notes that students from all majors are welcome to participate as long as they have some background—a previous internship or an academic course, for example—in American politics.
Mahder has always had an interest in legal studies and has explored politics through internships, even when she was in high school.
“It’s a big deal that Trinity is in Hartford where there are internship opportunities like this down the street,” she says.
“I feel very lucky to be part of the senator’s office and work with such accomplished people,” she adds. “They always treat me like one of the staff; the senator even made a five-minute point of personal interest during a senate session to thank me for my work and give me a citation. That was unexpected.”