Intern Power: Students Learn from Work with Legislature

     From Focus magazine, Spring 2010 >>

By John Lester

ATLANTA — It’s not your everyday college intern who researches legislation that could affect 1.6 million schoolchildren or who writes up to 12 news releases a day for state legislators.

Yet those are exactly the tasks being accomplished by Columbus State University seniors Emily Tomberlin and Kristin Strickland. Both are part of the Georgia Legislative Intern Program, an exclusive internship that sends only about 30 students from all of Georgia’s public and private universities and colleges to the state Capitol in Atlanta to gain firsthand experience in the lawmaking process.

Before Tomberlin and Strickland, it had been many years since Columbus State had any students participating in the program. But if these two have their way, many more Columbus State students will follow them.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” said Strickland, a political science major who’s the only intern working in the House Communications Office. I would love to work here full time later — work in communication and write speeches and press releases and constituent letters for legislators, or maybe the governor.”

Tomberlin (left, with Gov. Sonny Perdue) says the experience has also shaped her future plans.

“I’ve always been interested in government and wanted to see what it was all about and get some experience,” she said, expressing preference for a federal government career. “This job helps you get a lot of connections, especially with references with senators — that will definitely help.”

Tomberlin, a senior criminal justice major, will graduate later this year and then become an officer with the Marines, because it seemed to be the “most challenging” branch of the military.

Her internship is with the chairman of senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Preston Smith, and the chairman of the Education and Youth Committee, Sen. Daniel Weber.

“I really like being able to see a lot of the behindthescenes stuff with our committees and interacting with our senators,” Tomberlin said. “I feel like I’m really involved in it — really an insider, I guess you can say.”

Ideally, that’s exactly what an intern should experience, said Kimberly Mullen, Columbus State University’s senior director for student involvement, who coordinated the internships with the campus’ Center for Career Development and its assistant director, Lyn Riggsby-Gonzalez.

“This is how an internship should work — it should pave the way to what you want to do in the future,” Mullen said. “But you have to do that hard work. You can’t just want to do it, and they are doing the hard work.”

One of the concerns officials faced when reestablishing the internships was to allow the students the work experience without slowing down their education. So Mullen and Riggsby-Gonzalez worked with professors on campus to provide distance education opportunities for the students. So both 21yearold interns work fulltime at the Capitol during the day, and then spend most of their nights doing homework.

Mullen said it’s clear Tomberlin and Strickland can handle the workload.

“They are the highest caliber students — the top of the echelon in quality and in terms of being wellrounded,” she said. “They are going to be successful because they are putting things in their path to make sure they land on their feet.”

Greg Domin, chair of CSU’s Department of Political Science, said he hopes Tomberlin and Strickland will be ambassadors for future students who might consider a legislative internship.

“It gives them extraordinary experience,” Domin said. “You are able to take a lot of the things you learn at CSU and apply them in a realworld setting. This is something I think we do really well here at CSU — getting students beyond the four walls of the classroom.”

Domin has worked to offer similar opportunities, helping students participate in a Southern politics symposium at the Citadel in South Carolina in March and organizing a weeklong academic seminar in Washington, D.C. last December.

“If you present students with the opportunity to do these kinds of things, I think it makes us a more attractive place to learn and study,” Domin said.

Tomberlin certainly never envisioned moving to Columbus State from Colquitt, Ga., (population 1,939) would lead to her living in metro Atlanta (population, 5.5 million) while still in college. She and Strickland share an apartment with a roommate near Piedmont Park, take public transportation to their jobs and have made time to experience the amenities of a big city, such as unique restaurants and professional basketball.

Both say the experience has been fantastic and beneficial.

“I wanted to get that realworld experience, and I wanted to figure out where I want to work full-time, and discover myself, I guess,” said Strickland (left, observing action on the House floor). “I’ve definitely figured out what I want to do after my internship, because even on my bad days here, I’ve loved it.”