Gaining ‘valuable connections’

Skyler Ross, senior political science major and legislative intern, controls scheduling and planning for Rep. Steve Hunter (R-Joplin).

Skyler Ross, senior political science major and legislative intern, controls scheduling and planning for Rep. Steve Hunter (R-Joplin).

While regional political representatives may only be names in print to the public, to five Missouri Southern students they are just like everyone else.

Though the legislative intern program has only been active for two years, students have the opportunity to spend the spring semester in Jefferson City working for a local representative in a legislative environment.

Dr. Tom Simpson, professor of political science said University President Dr. Julio León made a commitment to area representatives to provide a student intern for the full term of the semester.

Ten students participated in 2006 and five are participating this year.

“We have a much more aggressive recruiting program planned for next year,” Simpson said.

Students receive 12 hours of tuition as well as a $1,000 stipend for expenses while living in the capitol. The internship is open to students of any major, preferably with sophomore standing or higher.

Students participate in every aspect of the legislative process, from attending to meetings to answering phones.

“Its always interesting to hear students talk about the first time they were invited out onto the floor of the Senate,” Simpson said.

Students also gain an in-depth knowledge of how politics are conducted and who politicians are, as people.

“It was a lot of fun seeing the Senators poke fun at each other and act just like regular people,” said Jonathan Russell, senior political science major and intern for Rep. Marilyn Ruestman (R-Joplin).

This is Russell’s second time participating in the program.

Interns also arrange schedules, handle constituents and get to know their representative or senator on a first-name basis.

“Its just good to see they don’t take their jobs too seriously,” said Adam Hancock, junior English and political science major, and intern for Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Mo.).

This year’s participants are primarily political science students, and some have a desire to pursue a future career in the political arena.

“I’m a people person, I thought this would be a good chance to see how politics really works,” said Donavon Mays, sophomore political science major and intern for Rep. John Bowman (D-St. Louis). “I would like to go to law school and maybe run for a small office.”

Students who have participated in the internship in the past have also found their place in the capital. Jake Heisten, who participated in last year’s internship, now serves as a legislative assistant for Nodler.

Heisten is a firm believer in taking advantage of the opportunities to see the inner workings of politics.

“They all come from different backgrounds,” he said. “Lawyers, business people, some in agriculture and education, they are all here for the good of the state.”

However, some interns simply want to gain a better understanding of local politics.

“It gives you insight, to get inside it and see how it all works, instead of watching from the outside,” Heisten said.

Though students spend all of the spring semester in the capital, they also take Internet classes and participate in school organizations.

Sean Grove, senior international business major and intern for Rep. Ron Richard (R-Joplin), also serves as the president of the Sigma Pi fraternity. Russell also serves as the organization’s treasurer.

“Granted, I can’t go to the weekday events,” Grove said. “Although I’m a few hours away, I’m definitely not separated from the chapter.”

Students currently serving in the capital gain work experience and form “valuable connections.” They also get the opportunity to learn firsthand from major political leaders.

“[Rep. Bowman] has taught me so much already,” Mays said. ” So I can only imagine what I’ll know when I leave.”