The Sam Houston Austin Internship Program kicks off each session with “Speaker Series,” and this week’s session placed double duty on the word “Speaker.” On Friday, the nine Austin Interns heard from three members of the House Speaker’s staff: Margo Cardwell (Counsel), Sydney Watts (Chief of Staff), and Cassi Pollock (Press/Media).
With lunch from Alonti’s (thanks to Malu Gonzales from TSUS for the recommendation), the students got two-hour overview of running a leadership office–as well as invaluable career advice.
Margo Cardwell emphasized the importance of discretion in the workplace, offering discussions of both office culture and the legal requirements of reporting office communications. She also explored the protections the Texas House offers against sexual harassment, and she offered the nine young women resources for addressing that issue, should they need resources. Cardwell then discussed her own career path, which involved an undergraduate degree in Washington, DC, law school at the University of Texas, and a series of legal/political jobs.
Without a master strategic plan to end up as Legal Counsel for the Speaker of the House, the jobs she chose made her both qualified and ideal for such a position. With six of the nine interns wanting to be attorneys, her advice was well received.
After serving as a reporter for several years for the Texas Tribune, Cassi Pollock now works as Press Secretary for Speaker Phelan. Pollock’s years covering politics and ability to write and communicate serve her well in her current role.
She emphasized the importance of writing skill for any office-legal-political job, a point echoed by Margo Cardwell. Pollock also underscored the need to stay true to your moral compass.
As a political reporter, she did her best to remain neutral and report the facts as she learned them and not to be swayed by her own–or others’–political leanings.
Sydney Watts has worked for two speakers, Bonnen and now Phelan, serving as the latter’s “Director of Administration.” She discussed basic management, tips for professional settings, tips for interns, and navigating the capitol.
One point she made was that no job is beneath any staffer. In fact, she pointed out that Margo might be “stocking the refrigerator” on one day, and the next she might be representing the Texas House in the court system. She highlighted the fact that the Texas House is one of the best places in the country for young people to work and to make a difference. In addition, she encouraged the interns to ask questions, particularly if (1) they were uncertain about something, (2) if they were curious, or (3) if they needed assistance with prioritizing tasks. For students in their first professional jobs with real responsibility, the advice was needed.
The students also had a chance to chime in, discussing what they’ve learned about things in the legislature, their biggest challenges, and aspects of Austin or the Texas Legislature they’ve found most interesting. Jessica Cuevas discussed the challenges of being an introvert and asserting oneself, Amor Sheffield discussed the challenges of being semi-introverted and having to speak to so many people in the Capitol all day long…
…and Breanna Demyers commented on the diversity of people from Texas’s 254 counties.
After the rewarding visit, we were able to take a photo in the House Gallery, with Ms. Cardwell and Ms. Watt (Ms. Pollock was, by this time, in a meeting).
It was a rewarding day for all of us, occurring in the midst of what is shaping up to be the most rewarding semester in our college careers.