Every two years, the LEAP Center at SHSU places 6-12 interns in the Texas Legislature. This year, 11 SHSU students were placed in offices:
Brittany Gibson: Texas Association of Counties
Jezel Luna: Rep. Rick Miller (R)
Maggie Denena: Rep. Will Metcalf (R)
Mackenzie Smith: Rep. Four Price (R)
Anne Jamarik: Rep. Trent Ashby (R)
Ilexus Williams: Rep. Mando Martinez (D)
Karen Tinajero: Rep. Mando Martinez (D)
Jordan Davis: Rep. Chris Turner (D)
Yvana Kepnga: Rep. Eric Johnson (D)
Peyton Reed: Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D)
Monica Dike: Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D)
The students learned much this session, with many of them carrying multiple bills through to the Governor’s signature. On Friday, with help from intern Maggie Denena…
…Representative Will Metcalf…
…Rep. Chris Turner, Rep. Four Price, Rep. Trent Ashby, and Rep. Jim Murphy recognized the interns from the House floor.
The recognition capped a successful session….
…that some 20 more SHSU students and alumni working in the legislature, probably a record number. Additional students worked in the executive branches near the Capitol. Intriguingly, this cohort are all 32 or younger, suggesting that there will be quite a future presence for SHSU in the executive and legislative branches of government.
It was six months ago that Monica Dike went to Austin to interview for a job. She may have been a little starstruck by the capitol building.
She was the first–of what would eventually be 11 SHSU interns–to get a job. She was hired by Rep. Senfronia Thompson to work for the 86th legislative session. We had them go through a series of orientations to help them get their legs under them.
And she soon started getting comfortable in the Capitol.
And after a few months, she began branching out, and on one of those excursions, she had a chance to meet Beto O’Rourke, as can be noted on this video clip.
Another of the many reasons the Austin Internship Program is a rewarding opportunity for students!
With a month of our internships under our belts, interns from the Sam Houston Austin Internship Program were more than happy to be able to volunteer at the 4th biennial Texas State University System Foundation Gala. The Texas State University Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides the Texas State University System and the member institutions with financial support.
At the request of Mike Wintemute, the Director of the TSUS Foundation, the SHAIP interns happily assisted with the event by greeting guests and helping them check in at the entrance. Among the guests were legislators, Regents, and faculty/administrators from TSUS’s seven institutions. We were glad to be able to meet the individuals who play such an impactful role in making sure that our Universities are operating efficiently and providing every student the opportunity to be successful.
Following the greeting period, we were invited into the ballroom, while we awaited the arrival of former President George W. Bush and mingled with the attendees. The interns met the Chancellor of the Texas State University System, Dr. Brian McCall…
…and other TSUS administrators…
…SHSU Administrators and faculty…
…and TSUS regents…
… and Texas State Representative Ernest Bailes.
Moments before the event started, the interns were able to introduce themselves to the newest Speaker of the House, Dennis Bonnen.
Then, after a full day of anticipation, we began our “evening with former President George W. Bush.” As President Bush entered the stage, every person in the room stood on their feet and erupted in applause for the former president. The discussion first began with President Bush giving his appreciation to a Texas leader that he holds in high esteem: General Sam Houston. As students at Sam Houston State University, it gives us great pride to know that the man we represent is honored by many, including a former President. The moderator of the conversation, Mark Updegrove, moved the topic to a more sensitive subject. With the recent passing of both his mother and father, President Bush was asked about his most memorable moments of his parents.
Bush recalled the final words his father said to him, which were “I love you.” President Bush said that his father’s words were very faint, but that he understood what his father was saying. Bush replied, “I love you, too, Dad.” Bush recalled that his dad, “set an example, and he set priorities.” The priorities included family, but it also included public service, and that set an example to his children, particularly for Jeb and George, both of whom went into politics.
Interestingly, his last conversation with his mother was also the one he described as most memorable. And, according to him, his mother also said, “I love you,” but Bush playfully added that she described him as her “favorite child.”
Then, the conversation swerved sharply into politics. As a man who has once served as the President of the United States, he was asked to give his opinion on the current President, Donald Trump. President Bush deferred from giving his view on President Trump because he does not like to speak about the decisions a current president makes while they are in office. He knows what it is like to have everyone scrutinize every decision you make. However, President Bush did add wistfully that the President’s speech and behavior “set the tone for the nation.”
President Bush reminisced about his presidential term, recalling the horrific day of September 11, 2001. The former President recalled receiving the news, and acknowledging that “things we can’t anticipate or control happen and how we react will matter for a long time to come.” The SHAIP interns found this to be good advice, not only for our careers, but also for life, reminding us that how we react to adversity will similarly shape our lives.
After holding one of the most challenging positions in America, President Bush noted that he was still learning–and he mentioned that he was now attempting to refine his work as an artist. He indicated that he is currently “specializing in puppy portrait painting.”
Following the discussion with President Bush, dinner was served. Our Entrèe included Grilled Beef Tenderloin & Seared Redfish with pimiento Cheese-Potato Puree, Chive Bearnaise, and seasonal vegetables. For dessert, we had a Flourless Chocolate Cake with Kahlua Ganache and Bailey’s Cream.
The Sam Houston Interns would like to thank Mike Wintemute for giving us the chance to attend the TSUS Foundation Gala. It was an honor to be able to represent Sam Houston State University.
We realize that not many people are afforded opportunities like this, and we will forever be grateful.
With two LEAP Ambassadors interning in Austin, the organization has more experiential diversity than normal. For example, two of the Ambassadors and SHAIP student Mackenzie Smith, recently woke at the break of dawn to head to Fort Hood, a military base in Killeen, Texas. We were able to get the full military experience, or at least as close as two of us are likely to get.
Before we began our exploration of Fort Hood, we needed a proper education on military vocabulary. The term HOOAH (Who-a) has a multiplicity of meanings. It can mean anything and everything: “I’m at a loss for words,” “yes,” “thank you,” “understood,” or “I don’t have the answer, but will check on it.” While it can mean all of these things, it cannot mean “no.” After being introduced to the meaning of this phrase, our group was asked if we were excited to be at Fort Hood. We missed our queue, saying “yes,” rather than the expected “HOOAH.”
First, we explored military squad vehicles. Although the vehicles seem similar, they each serve a different purpose.
For instance, the M109A6, also known as the Black Widow is an American self-propelled howitzer, and it is the most common form of indirect artillery. M109A6 has the capability of firing a maximum rate of fire of four rounds per-minute.
M1126 Stryker Infantry Carrier supplies protected transport of a nine-man infantry squad and two man crew during assaults. The M1126 is also supplied with various survival kits to adjust to different operating conditions.
Next, the Austin interns stepped out of their comfort zones and experienced military training with soldiers from Fort Hood.
Many of us had the opportunity to participate in Humvee simulations, which were intriguing and informative.
We were encouraged to take the opportunity of being at Fort Hood to understand why individuals in the military choose to serve. Many who serve do it for their families, discipline, or the opportunity to do something that is bigger than themselves. In the short time we spent with the Fort Hood Soldiers, they were able to deliver a real experience on a military base.
While this may not have been new for Jezel Luna (who, in addition to being a LEAP Ambassador and Austin Intern, is also in the US Military), it was new for the rest of us.
Because of this experience, we have a better understanding of why these brave men and women continue to do what they do. We know that during this legislative process we will be thinking about the men and women who give up their life to serve the people of this country. We are forever grateful for their selflessness and sacrifices.
Every two years, the LEAP Center selects approximately ten students to work in the legislature as part of our Sam Houston Austin Internship Program. The program has been very successful thus far (editor knocks on wood), and one of the reasons is that SHSU provides many staff persons to support us through orientation and training. This year was no different.
We gathered with three SHSU staff members from various fields: Heather Varela, from Human Resources; Julie Schwab from Academic Affairs; and Vinessa Mundorff from Career Services.
The three women were generous with their time and offered much in the way of excellent advice.
VInessa Mundorff offered numerous tips (including photos) on professional attire, buying affordable and professional clothes, and overall professional appearance.
Julie Schwab offered numerous tips on our behavior, particularly with ways to be confident in our comportment and belief system. She began by telling us that we belong, and that we wouldn’t be in this position if people weren’t confident in us. This was particularly helpful to those of us who were questioning our own abilities. She also offered tips for dealing with pushy people who might dismiss us for our gender, age, or “intern” status, something she dealt with as an auditor at TDCJ while she was still in college. Interestingly, she emphasized our nonverbal communication in asserting ourselves, encouraging us to visually engage people in meetings, to stay off our phones, use good posture, and other tips.
Heather Varela primarily spoke to Title IX issues, problems that might arise in the area of sexual harassment. She explained the law to us, discussed University policy, and also indicated that we should report any behavior–particularly if it happened more than once–that was inappropriate.
Of course, the panelists’ discussions bled over into other areas, and they all provided good insight into appropriate behavior at social events, while on the phone, around the office, and even outside the office.
Most importantly, they gave us encouragement and provided us with a new way to look at and assess our behavior, while also demonstrating that many staff at SHSU care about our success.
As we’ve discovered in the first month of the internship, we receive a lot more support in our internship program, and many more opportunities than most of the other programs in Texas, and for that we are very grateful. Thank you Ms. Mundorff, Ms. Schwab, and Ms. Varela!
One of the many services provided by the Texas Politics Project is a legislative internship seminar, scheduled at the beginning of each legislative session. For us, it was our fifth orientation: we had 3 orientation sessions provided by the University, one provided by the Texas Legislature, and this one. While much of the information overlapped (be on time!), each session had a different group of speakers, and offered insight we didn’t get elsewhere.
Today, we met at Jester Hall on UT’s campus, prepared (along with approximately 40 other interns from across the state) to hear from five separate panels. Dr. James Henson, the Director of the Texas Politics Project, introduced the program, which led off with a discussion by TSUS Chancellor–and former TX State Representative–Dr. Brian McCall.
This was a special treat for us, because Chancellor McCall is the Chancellor for our University System, TSUS. Three of us had a tour of the TSUS Headquarters last semester, and we’ll also have the pleasure of being part of the TSUS Foundation Gala in a little over a week.
Chancellor McCall discussed his own political start: he ran for office when he was 24! While he lost that race, he bounced back at the age of 31, and he won. He served for 20 years, before being named Chancellor of the Texas State University System.
The second panel was by the legislative Parliamentarians–from the House, Hugh Brady and Sharon Carter, and from the Senate, Karina Davis.
They described their jobs and its function, which is primarily to help keep things moving–correctly–on the floor of their chamber. Though they mostly advise the presiding officers of their chamber, they are available to all members, and they offer (non-partisan) advice on procedures and responses. Their goal is to keep one issue on the floor at a time–no multi-billing–and get the issues resolved seriatum, so as to keep things moving.
Following a brief lunch, we heard from Lisa Craven, Deputy Comptroller, who provided advice to interns and also described the function of the Comptroller’s office. The Comptroller collects all taxes in Texas, but, more importantly, projects income over the next two years: providing the legislature with estimated funds with which to work. In fact, the legislature cannot allocate more funds than the Comptroller estimates to be available.
The penultimate speaker was Dr. Kathy Grant, a lobbyist (and Dr. Henson’s wife)…
…who offered advice for working with lobbyists. Ms. Grant, who is an expert on public utilities and telecommunications, helps her clients shape communication strategies that are most effective when working with legislators.
The final speaker was Ross Ramsey, the Executive Editor of the Texas Tribune. Mr. Ramsey’s discussion was particularly interesting, with a full discussion of how to establish boundaries with the press, while also clarifying what “off the record” means. One thing we learned is that off the record has to be established before a discussion takes place. While interesting and informative, one thing that we’ve learned is that it is the Chief of Staff or the Rep’s job to speak with the press, not ours.
Thanks to the Texas Politics Project for an informative day, with a full provision of food and speakers at no cost. It’s a great service for what promises to be a great semester in Austin!
It was a chilly morning as we left our hotel to walk two blocks to the Capitol. As we walked towards the capitol building, our excitement began to grow as we saw the stage with the giant Texas flag above it and the rows of chairs filled with programs.
We arrived early, so we were able to find seats and take pictures of everyone getting ready for the big event.
We noticed the security precautions for the event such as many State Troopers, drones, and snipers in buildings above.
As government officials and everyday civilians began to fill the north side of the Capitol, the ceremony, formally known as the Oath of Office Ceremony, commenced.
The announcer introduced Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick along with their families, and these elected officials walked through an arch of swords to their seats.
We were led the Pledge of Allegiance by a Boy Scouts troop and as they finished…
we were treated to a military flyover.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, following an introduction by Senators Jane Nelson (R) and John Whitmire (D),
…was the first to take the oath conducted by Appeals Court Justice Don Willett.
After he was sworn in, he gave a speech that included the introduction of “his personal security” for the event, Chuck Norris!
Patrick struck a note of bi-partisanship and unity. Following his introduction by a Democrat and Republican, he introduced House Speaker Dennis Bonnen whom, in an “unprecedented” move, he called to the dais to join him.
He then went on to lay out his agenda for the session….
…which included stressing increasing teacher pay, re-structuring school finance, and reducing property taxes. While some of the crowd impatiently chanted “build the wall” and others got lost in the policy details…
…the crowd was mostly appreciative.
Then it was time for Governor Abbott to take the oath, and he was sworn in by Nathan Hecht, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
After Governor Abbott finished swearing in, his family provided hugs,
…and cannons boomed a 19-gun salute (in the US, only Presidents or other heads-of-state receive the 21-gun salute) and the crowd cheered.
Abbott struck a theme of “In Texas, anything is possible”….
…and delivered a well-received speech. The band played…
…and Abbott’s, friends, family, and Speaker Dennis Bonnen congratulated the Governor on a job well done.
And with that, Speaker Bonnen gaveled the session adjourned.
The ceremony came to a close and we were able to take pictures with the current Sam Houston students who are interning at the Capitol, including two LEAP Ambassadors.
The Texas legislature only meets once every two years, and some feel that “no man or beast is safe when the legislature is in session.” But for a select group of SHSU students, the legislative session poses the opportunity for a Sam Houston Austin Internship.
Thus it was that five students embarked to Austin early this week, with the hopes of landing an internship in a legislative office. The students were some of the 30-plus students who applied for the SHAIP Internships, and approximately half of those selected to interview in Austin.
In all ten students were selected to interview with eleven offices. Two of these students have already been placed; three more are coming later this week; and the five of us are hoping for the best.
Our schedule is grueling but rewarding: up before 6am, dressed in suits, and a schedule of four interviews, each lasting two hours. It was a day of stress, but you wouldn’t know by the happy smiles we wore as we arrived at the Texas Capitol…
The end to the day’s interviews brought on a sense of contentment and relief, and we were smiled up again as we toured the Capitol building.
As the afternoon gave way to the evening, we met with SHAIP alumni (Christina Perez and Ariel Leaf) at The Clay Pit for a fabulous dinner. For most of us, it was the first time to try various dishes…
…but we did a great job of coming close to finishing things and being adventurous. And we also tried to wisely use our time with Christina and Ariel; learning as much about the process as possible. By the end of the evening, we felt more comfortable about the internship logistics and also felt we had made new friends!
With additional interviews scheduled for the next day, we returned to the hotel, prepared to study and sleep.
The second day was a bit more eventful. There were fewer interviews, so the students with the later interviews had the special opportunity to tour the Texas State University System’s new headquarters in O. Henry Hall.
The building is beautiful! Built between 1877-1881, the structure was designed by architect James Hill–whose work is notably diverse–and he managed to make this a unique structure in the City of Austin. Construction occurred under the supervision of Abner Cook, who also designed the Governor’s Mansion and was the Director of TDCJ during its early years. It was designed as a courthouse and post office.
Its name derives from the fact that O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) was tried in this building in 1898 for embezzlement. O’Henry was convicted, and he spent time in jail. But today the building, his nearby home, and dozens of short story extend his legacy.
The building’s interior is as impressive as its exterior. With Vice-Chancellor Sean Cunningham as a tour guide…
…we had many chances to explore.
A highlight was meeting many of the staff, such as Candice Woodruff, Pierce Mitchell, and Chancellor Brian McCall. Indeed, Cunningham and McCall agreed to a photo with us, and two of us had the chance to stand with replicas of Sam Houston’s cane!
The tour was informative and enlightening, and it helped us feel more a part of a larger process. It was also a great way to occupy our minds while our afternoon interviews awaited. We were grateful that the TSUS office thought of us, and appreciative we were at a University and a System where students can receive this type of support.
The afternoon brought an end to our interviews, and we headed back to Huntsville. A final wave of students will interview later this week, and placements should be made over the weekend or, at the latest, Monday. Until then, we will be grateful for the opportunity and reflect on all that we have learned and experienced!