The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Helping Others Help Themselves

Wed, September 30, 2009

Ted Strauss Civic Internship Awards are distributed to University of Texas undergraduate students through the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation. The awards supplement summer internships in the fields of public policy, public service, government, or politics. Last summer, two government seniors, Cecilia Lopez and Rachel Wade, received Strauss awards. Cecilia and Rachel spent their summers in different internships, but reached similar conclusions about the tasks ahead of them and the obstacles faced by those around them. Both believe that people cannot escape the life they are put into, but need others to help them along the way, and that ultimately the right public policies must be in place to make opportunities available and meaningful.

Rachel WadeRachel’s award supplemented her participation in the Investigative Internship Program at Georgetown University Law School’s Criminal Justice Clinic. During her internship, Rachel realized that she might want to spend some time in Teach for America before heading off to law school, and before moving from a legal career to a policymaking career. Having learned much about the criminal justice system, Rachel now understands more fully that once someone is in the system, it is really difficult to get them out, and therefore sees Teach for America as a promising way to help keep people out of the system in the first place.

Cecila’s award supplemented her summer as a government relations fellow at the Hispanic College Fund. She, too, left the internship with a renewed sense of purpose, and is currently preparing applications for admission into graduate programs in higher education administration. Cecilia has come to the realization that as important as college access is, student retention is an equally serious issue, as too many students are exiting college without graduating once they get there.

There are a couple of other key similarities in Cecilia’s and Rachel’s experiences. First, both took a course on political communication with Sharon Jarvis, associate professor of communication studies and associate director of the Strauss Center. Jarvis informed them about the internship award, but she also equipped them with skills they would use on the job. Whether reaching out to lawmakers on The Hill, in Cecilia’s case, or working on behalf of indigent defendants, in Rachel’s case, both gained appreciation for the importance of pitching things in the right way, and the power of persuasion. Second, Rachel and Cecilia have participated in the policymaking process in very different capacities and very different settings, but they walked away with similar observations. Advocating on behalf of a non-profit without much financial sway, Cecilia witnessed a Washington, D.C. where money and names speak – who do you know, how much do they matter, and what do they think? Rachel’s experience echoes Cecilia’s, even though Rachel’s came last semester as an intern in the Texas Legislature, where, through the Department of Government Internship Program, she worked with the Committee on Intergovernmental Relations for Sen. Royce West. It was a timely appointment for Rachel, as the committee was inundated with legislation regarding home foreclosures. Regardless, a similar pattern of politics prevailed – lobbyists were incredibly influential, and an ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ attitude ruled the day.

Read about Cecila Lopez's experience in her own words here.

Read about Rachel Wade's experience in her own words here.

Read about other interns' experiences here.

Learn more about Ted Strauss Civic Internship Awards, including how to apply, here.

Prepared by Stuart Tendler

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