UA Legislative Interns Spring Into Action

Each year, UA students spend a semester in Phoenix working with the state Legislature in an internship program organized by the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
April 4, 2012
The UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences has organized the Arizona Legislative Internship Program for about 20 years, involving students from a range of disciplines.
The UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences has organized the Arizona Legislative Internship Program for about 20 years, involving students from a range of disciplines.

A new crop of University of Arizona students is working in Phoenix this semester as part of the Arizona State Legislative Internship program.

In January, UA interns selected from a pool of 69 applicants who survived two rounds of interviews reported to the Arizona Legislature in Phoenix. 

There, the 17 UA students – joined by 11 interns from Arizona State University and three from Northern Arizona University – are spending the semester working at the state Capitol in the House of Representatives, the Senate or the Governor's Office.

Kellie Mejdrich, a UA Honors College student studying in the School of Journalism, received the Don Bolles Fellowship and will be covering the Arizona Legislature.

During the semester, the interns are paid a $4,200 stipend from the Legislature, their tuition and fees are waved, and they earn 12 units of academic credit for their work.

Alsos, the interns receive a midterm and final assessment from their supervisor and are required to write an academic paper connecting their internship experience with their current studies.

The Arizona Legislative Internship Program, organized by the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences for about 20 years, often is perceived as an opportunity only for political science majors. But students in any major can, and do, participate.

This year's interns represent disciplines that include communication, East Asian studies, ecology and evolutionary biology, economics, finance, journalism, media arts, German studies, molecular and cellular biology, psychology, political science and public administration and policy.

For students like Christopher Adams, a political science major, this opportunity is a perfect fit. He already has worked with the campaigns for Tucson mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Tucson City Councilwoman Regina Romero.

"For years, I have had the dream to become a civil servant and work in the public interest of the American people," Adams said.

David Fernandez, an ecology and evolutionary biology major, felt that the opportunity to participate in government "in some small way above and beyond my vote was too attractive to let pass."

Fernandez said he believes his science background will come in handy.

"I am certain that interpretation of scientific literature, a passion for learning and an understanding of technology have an essential place in the legislative process," he said.

The work is demanding and fascinating. Interns write speeches, summarize bills, draft amendments, conduct research, attend committee meetings and hearings and also work on constituents' problems.

"This internship is absolutely fantastic," Fernandez said.

"I knew from the start that it wasn't going to be a fetch-the-coffee sort of internship, but I was still surprised by just how important our role is," he said. "I stand formally before state senators in committee and caucus meetings explaining legislation on a weekly basis."

He also has worked on bills for educational tax credits, state retirement programs, property tax and a solar tax exemption.

"Overall, working here is the best learning experience I've had," said Daniel Andrés Domínguez, a political science and journalism student who is working on media relations and writing speeches during his internship.

"I never thought I could get such insightful knowledge into how state politics work," he added.

Bryan Durham, who was a UA intern at the Senate last spring, said the internship program was one of the greatest experiences of his college career.

"Not only does this program serve to educate students about state government," Durham said, "but by having a constant presence of UA students in the Legislature, it also helps remind state government officials why our university system is so important."