A group of University of Louisiana students got an inside look at Louisiana politics this summer while serving as interns for legislators. The Future Leaders Internship Program pairs students with state representatives and senators.

Dr. Ryan Teten, an assistant professor of political science, developed the six-week program, the first of its kind in the state. It's modeled after one he established at Northern Kentucky University, where he previously taught. (Read the ultoday.com interview with Dr. Teten here.)

The program combines hands-on experience with academic research. During the internship, each student kept a daily journal of activities and followed a specific bill through the legislative process. Each intern is preparing a 10-page paper about the outcome of his or her chosen bill.

"Our students are learning lessons that can't be taught in the classroom," said Teten. "As interns, they essentially became support staff for legislators."

Each state senator has office space and a small staff in the state capitol. Representatives do not. "Their desks on the House floor are their working desks. So, they are conducting business from the floor," Teten noted.

Students of all majors and classifications may apply to become interns. Forty-seven students applied for the nine available positions. "These students went through an intensive vetting process," said Teten.

Students submitted a formal application, resume and transcript. Teten also interviewed them. The grade-point average of the group is 3.8.

UL interns commuted from campus to the state capitol four or five days a week. They worked 28 hours a week at the capitol. Eight of them worked for one of Acadiana's area lawmakers. The ninth, Angelle Pearce, served as Teten's assistant, coordinating students' schedules and monitoring their progress.

Pearce is pursuing a master's degree in public relations. She is preparing her graduate thesis on the public's perception of lawmakers according to legislators' gender. While attending meetings, including a meeting of the Women's Caucus, she collected data for her academic research. The Women's Caucus is made up of the women in the Louisiana Legislature. "I want to know if women deliver their political messages in a different way than their male colleagues," she said.

She also followed Ken Ardoin, UL's vice president for University Advancement, as he met with legislators to share the university's perspectives and concerns about issues related to higher education. (Read more about VP Ardoin here.)

The most-watched piece of legislation among university supporters was the Granting Resources and Autonomy for Diplomas Act, better known as the GRAD Act. The measure, which was approved by both houses of the legislature on June 20, now awaits Gov. Bobby Jindal's signature to become law. If the governor does not sign the bill, it will automatically become law 60 days after its passage.

Jindal has expressed support for the GRAD Act, which establishes requirements for universities, including higher admissions standards and graduation rates. Schools that meet the benchmarks can increase tuition by up to 10 percent a year until they reach the average of similar schools in the South. Once schools reach the Southern average, they can increase tuition up to 5 percent a year or an amount equal to the growth in a national higher education price index, whichever is greater.

Pearce said she also supports the act, even though it will mean higher tuition costs for students. "I think UL has done a great job of providing a high-quality education, but the reality of state economics means we will not be able to continue to rely on state support."

Overall, she said the internship experience has solidified her decision to eventually run for office. "I definitely want to go into public service at some point in my life," she said.

Scott Richard, a junior studying political science, served as an intern for state Sen. Eric LaFleur, a Democrat who serves District 28. Richard's experience was typical: sitting in on committee meetings to take notes; answering phones; conducting research; and drafting letters to constituents and lawmakers. Students were also on hand in the House and Senate chambers during legislative sessions.

"I've known for a long time that I want to go to law school, but this experience has gotten me more interested in politics. My legislator is an attorney who maintains a practice along with serving as a senator, so it's been good for me to spend time with someone who's doing what I see myself doing in a few years," Richard said.

Keely McGibboney is a junior majoring in political science who worked with Rep. Fred Mills, a Democrat who serves District 46.

"He made me feel very welcome and let me know that it was all right to ask questions," she said.

McGibboney attended meetings with Mills and on his behalf, has conducted research and prepared talking points for his speeches. In addition to working at the capitol, she occasionally worked at Mills' district office in St. Martinville.

"I researched Drew Brees so that Rep. Mills could write a speech about him for an event. … He's let me do lots of interesting things every day. One of the things I love most about the experience is that I get to go in work and not one day is the same. Every day brings something new and exciting."

McGibboney said interns get a more in-depth experience than legislative pages, who are typically high school students. "The pages help to keep the gears turning. They perform tasks for the legislators, such as making and distributing copies for them, or getting them food if they haven't had time to eat. They distribute mail and promotional items and deliver messages throughout the building.

"As interns, we're working for one particular legislator and we are more deeply involved in the legislative process, attending committee meetings and tracking bills for our bosses."

Joshua Carver was an intern for District 43 Rep. Page Cortez, a Republican. Carver is pursuing a master's degree in music theory. Last summer, Carver read Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," the political pamphlet that helped ignite the Revolutionary War in 1776. "I really fell in love with the philosophy side of politics. So, from last summer until now, I've been reading as much political philosophy as I can outside of class," he said.

"Obviously, I haven't had a lot of political science classes, but I feel like I've almost caught up with what's taught in the classroom, just from being at the capitol every day."

In addition to Pearce, Richard, McGibboney and Carver, five other students participated in the program. C. Gabriel Senette, a graduate student studying counseling education, worked with Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Joel Robideaux, an Independent who represents District 45. Satchal "Dax" Broussard, a senior majoring in political science, worked with District 47 Rep. Jonathan Perry, a Republican. Courtney Hollier, a junior majoring in political science, worked with Rep. Nancy Landry, a Republican who represents District 31. Imani Guillory, a junior studying public relations, worked with her father Sen. Elbert Guillory, a Democrat who represents District 24. Jayme Liles, a sophomore majoring in sociology, worked with District 42 Rep. Jack Montoucet, a Democrat.

Ken Ardoin, UL's vice president for University Advancement, said the program was well received at the capitol. "These students have represented the university well. They were professional and helpful. The legislators they worked with said they appreciated the support our students were able to provide."

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