Every two years the the Texas Legislature meets in Austin , and every two years SHSU sends top students to intern in Austin, where they can build their resume, gain skills, learn about policy and government. To help prepare students for that opportunity–and to provide an overview of legislative careers–the LEAP Center brings legislative staff to campus to meet with students.
This year, we invited four staff: Scott Jenkines, Chief of Staff for Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez; Ariel Leaf, District Director for Sen. Charles Schwertner; Zachary Stephenson, Chief of Staff for Rep. Will Metcalf; and Sarah Tillman, District Director for Rep. Will Metcalf.
Twenty students signed up for the event and, dressed in professional attire, listened to–and occasionally asked questions of–the experts on the legislative process.
Two of the staff-Ariel and Sarah–had been interns, so they provided a ground-floor perspective, while also filling in students on what it’s like to be a district director. Scott and Zach provided an overview of legislative offices and the role of the Chief of Staff.
One of the key purposes of the panel was to describe what “session life” is like. A key point the staff members repeated was that there’s no experience like session experience. Interns can work during the summer or fall, but the 140-day session every other year provides a pace and a perspective that can’t be replicated during the interim.
The staff also distinguishing between the qualities that make a good intern as opposed to a less-quality intern. Such advice included:
Quality interns have basic transferable skills: they come to work on time, maintain communication with supervisors, have a strong work ethic, and a great attitude;
Good interns are dressed professionally and behave professionally;
Exceptional interns take initiative, complete tasks efficiently and ask for more work;
The best interns are flexible, are quick learners, possess intellectual curiosity, and represent their office well.
Of students had plenty of opportunities to ask questions, and they further had a chance to mingle following the event, which they exploited fully.
They finished with a group photo, but many of the students have chosen to follow-up with interviews and additional policy education at next week’s Texas Tribune Festival.
On June 13, 2016 Alex Galvan, Kaitlyn Tyra, Megan Chapa, Karla Rosales, and I headed into the Capitol for our first day as Austin interns.
Unlike the rest of the SHSU students, however, this was my first time in Austin, and I could not help but look in awe at the marvelous building I would be working in for the week. As we got further inside, I stood on top of the terrazzo floor tiles forming the six seals of the six nations that had governed Texas…
and I stood looking up at the dome.
I spun in a circle and all around me I saw portraits of governors.
Looking further up, I noticed that every floor had various portraits all around the rotunda and at the very top was a star painted on the dome. With the sun shining through the windows all around me, I hoped it was a premonition of the day ahead and that the wonder would be only a taste compared to the amazing things I would later discover.
As soon as I entered through the door of Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez’s office, I was cheerfully greeted by his Chief of Staff, Scott Jenkines. Mr. Jenkines made me feel right at home as he explained the expectations and rules of the office. With Mr. Jenkines being from Weslaco, we reminisced about the Rio Grande Valley, and discussed the many issues the people there were facing, as well as different possibilities that Representative Martinez was trying to implement to try and help these issues get fixed.
To start off the day, Mr. Jenkines led me through the maze that was the Capitol and took me to get my photograph taken for my ID. He also offered a quick tour and, again, my head spun round and round, as we took turn after turn, leading me deeper and deeper into the Capitol. I was shown where the Capitol Grille was, the place to go when anyone inside was hungry; we passed by the post office (grabbing the mail in the process); and we saw the different committee offices, especially Transportation and Higher Education, which are two of the committees Representative Martinez is heavily involved in.
The House of Representatives, where Representative Martinez votes, was closed for renovation, but the Senate Gallery was open and splendid!
One of the most interesting things I learned about the Capitol was the process of hanging the governors’ portraits. Heading back, Mr. Jenkines explained that when a new governor’s portrait was added (only after they leave office), each of the portraits has to be moved exactly one spot backwards, meaning every single portrait has to be removed and rehung.
At another stop on the tour, we visited the library, almost directly beneath Representative Martinez’s office. On the library walls are paintings of the judges. One stood out: The Portrait of the Unknown Judge.
It is interesting that an unknown judge could make it on to the wall of the capitol and yet not have anything known about him.
Once I got back to the office, I got to meet Jack Walls, a Baylor intern who is also be interning at Representative Martinez’s office. He showed me the basics of the typical office day for an intern: answering phone calls, navigating the computer system, and communicating with people. Then I was left to my own devices so that I could read and learn more in depth about bills, statutes, and committees.
Later in the day, Mr. Jenkines received a call that my ID was ready. As we were heading back up to the office I got to show off my brand new name tag.
Later, still, I would get a nameplate, just like a real employee!
At the office, Mr. Jenkines mentioned a leadership program called “Subiendo”. This program was aimed at high-school students so that they can gain leadership skills during a training in which they can learn about and address different issues going on in the real world today. This event takes place on Wednesday, and I will have the chance to go along as part of the Representative Martinez team.
At the end of the day, Professor Yawn took us to a vegetarian restaurant called Mother’s. We were greeted by Blake Roach, Melva Gomez, and Emily Johnson who were alumni and part of the Junior Fellows when they were at SHSU. Everyone relaxed and spent a pleasant evening in this quaint little restaurant. We were all a bit thrown off by the lack of meat (Vegetarian isn’t big in the Valley), but it was an interesting experience to see the wonderfully creative recipes they had instead. I had the plate called Momma’s Quiche. We left after various elaborated talks of the past memories and the new ones being created.
It was a special day, one made so by my boss, Scott Jenkines; and by Megan Chapa and Alejandra Galvan, who made a trip to the Valley to take me to Austin; and the opportunities that come with being an SHSU student.
Beatriz Martinez is finishing her first year at SHSU. She is eighteen-years old but, amazingly, has completed 100 hours, compiling a cumulative GPA of 3.90 (and a 4.0 at SHSU). She is the youngest of the LEAP Ambassadors.
LEAP Students were eager to start our final day in Austin. After grabbing a quick breakfast at the hotel, we headed to the Capitol to meet up with the Austin Interns. For the interns and capitol staff, today was an exciting day because it marked the end of Texas’s 84th Legislative session. For LEAP Students, it was an exciting opportunity to see the Texas Legislature in action.
A Junior Fellow Alum and present Advance Aide for Governor Abbott, Blake Roach arranged a photo opportunity for the Sam Houston Interns and LEAP Students! It was such an exciting opportunity for us as we were invited to meet Governor Abbott.
As we entered the Governors Reception Room, many students were eager, with maybe a few jittery nerves as they admired the intricate detailing from the molding to the door hinges. Shortly after we arrived, Governor Abbott entered and asked about us our majors and goals and such, and then we took a photo:
Meeting Governor Abbott was the highlight of our weekend and made our trip unforgettable. Not only did Governor Abbott schedule time out of his busy day to take pictures with us, but he also was very personable and friendly. Many thanks to Governor Abbott for taking time out of his incredibly busy day and to Blake Roach for arranging this memorable meet and greet.
After meeting Governor Abbott, LEAP Students and the Austin Interns hurried over to the House Gallery to hear the resolution and recognition of the Sam Houston Interns by Representative John Otto. It was a memorable experience for the Austin Interns to be recognized for all their hard work during the session. For visiting LEAP students, the entire experience should provide much motivation to work hard and stay focused on the goal of interning during the next legislative session.
After watching all of the Austin Interns get recognized by Representative Otto, Sadie McLaughlin, one of the Interns, gave us a tour of Representative Otto’s Office.
While at Representative Otto’s office we met up with Melva Gomez who was a previous intern and is now serves as an administrative aid for Representative Otto. Melva shared her adventures as a staff member with all of us, while crediting the Austin Internship program and the Junior Fellows for all of her wonderful opportunities.
Invited by Alexis Gonzales, another Austin Intern from SHSU, to take a tour of Armando Martinez’s office, we left Representative Otto’s office on a mission. In Representative Martinez’s office, Scott Jenkines, the chief of staff for Armando Martinez, kindly greeted us. We were able to sit down with Mr. Jenkines while he answered any questions that we had and gave us insight about what occurs during the 140 days in session.
Jenkines also showed us his black Lucchese cowboy boots that were stitched with the House of Representatives logo, which I thought were pretty cool. Alexis was also there to give us information about her life as an Intern at the Capitol. She told us about her extremely rare experience of walking on the House floor without begin stopped and let us know that anyone wanting to be a future Austin Intern must be able to work with a flexible schedule. The tours of the offices allowed us to learn more about what happens in the capitol and gain great insight into the experiences of the current Austin Interns.
We left the Capitol overwhelmed by the awesome opportunities awaiting us in our future endeavors, although that did not stop us and our grumbling bellies in search for lunch. We made a quick stop at Whole Foods Market to eat, after windy through the huge amount of Austonians aiming to satisfy their hunger as well. Satisfied, we got back in the car and made our way home, whilst discussing the weekend and everything we had learned. Not many college students can say they understand the running of a campaign or have met the governor, but we can attest to both. Safely in Huntsville once again, we left each other ready for some good sleep and hopefully the next adventure LEAP throws at us.
It was a nice day at the Capitol building. LEAP Center students visited the Texas Legislature to learn more about the operation of the Texas Legislature. With the help of Scott Jenkines, Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez’s Chief of Staff, they learned quite a lot.
Most House offices, according to Jenkines, have a Chief of Staff positions, a District Director/Administrator, a Policy Director, and a Staff Associate, although these positions may be fully filled only during the session. There are also committee staff positions available. Senators, with five times the number of constituents as House members, have additional staff. Both the House and the Senate offices offer internships, and an SHSU student, Bianca Kyle, worked for Jenkines during the last session (Spring 2013).
Jenkines spent considerable time discussing expectations of interns and their duties. He praised Kyle, whom he indicated was more of a “Staff Associate than an intern,” noting that she was “a natural” with constituents. Jenkines, who has worked with more than sixty interns in the legislature, expects interns to be on time, to be professionally dressed, and to maintain a good attitude with both staff and the public.
As Chief of Staff, Jenkines allows interns to represent the office at various functions and even attend committee meetings on behalf of the office (Rule: “If you go, you have to stay the entire time”.) For more technical skills, he trains the student and, in fact, typically offers them the chance to initiate research in a policy area.
SHSU Business Major Jessica Rodriguez, who is interested in becoming an Austin Intern, asked Jenkines what kind of policy work a student might be engaged in. Jenkines allows interns to attend Committee hearings, but he does have a rule: “If you go, you have to stay the whole time.” Moreover, Jenkines typically allows students to initiate research in a policy area.
“We’ve had great support from the offices in which we’ve placed interns,” noted Mike Yawn, Director of the Austin Internship Program. “Students have had the chance to work on policy, plan events, and see the process up close. We’re very grateful for the offices that have helped us place the SHSU interns.”
Note: Sam Houston’s Austin Internship Program, which began in the 2013 session, has placed students in the following offices: