Preparing for rebuttals on the senate floor, engaging with constituents to help create legislation that will advance community needs, conducting research, and writing memos for legislators. These are just a few of the day-to-day activities undergraduate students get to experience during their time as legislative interns.
For more than 40 years, the Colorado Legislative Internship has given Colorado State University students a rare firsthand glimpse into the inner workings of Colorado’s government. Every spring semester when the Colorado General Assembly is in session, vanloads of student interns travel to Denver on Tuesdays and Thursdays to work with elected leaders at the Capitol. Over the years, the internship has provided more than 1,100 students with an invaluable hands-on learning experience.
For political science graduates Merry Gebretsadik and Joslyn Orji, the Colorado Legislative Internship served as a guiding light for their careers. Completing the program together in the spring of 2022, the internship provided them with real-world experience and helped forge a strong friendship.
From Global Politics to Local Policy Making
Gebretsadik credits the Colorado Legislative Internship program for preparing her for a career in politics – starting with her current role as an executive assistant to the Governor’s Office of Boards and Commissions. “I am currently learning a lot on the executive side of state government working for the Governor’s office,” says Gebretsadik. “I’m getting to see how everything I learned during my internship intermingles with my current role, and how the different branches of government work together.”
With a concentration in global politics and policy, which focused primarily on international relations, Gebretsadik applied for the legislative internship to gain more exposure to the inner workings of state government and local policymaking. Gebretsadik knew the Colorado Legislative Internship would give her the exposure to policy writing that she desired while also giving her the opportunity to strengthen her writing and speaking skills and learn the art of networking with senators and legislators, helping her grow not only as a person, but also as a leader. “It was a fast-paced environment where I learned how bills work, the timeline of getting a bill passed, as well as the communication that goes on between senators and representatives,” she says.
Gebretsadik was placed with Senator Gonzales, a member of the Colorado Senate from the 34th district in the City and County of Denver. “Senator Gonzales’ team made me feel very included. At the beginning of the day, we would have a team meeting, and they would ask for my input and thoughts on a matter. It gave me the confidence to do the job and be a contributing member of the team,” she says. I was also given the opportunity to make many meaningful introductions with senators and representatives that would come in for a meeting with Senator Gonzales. By doing internships, you are making connections with people that could lead you to your next career,” said Gebretsadik.
Advancing the Community Through Policy Change
Orji had ambitions for her internship that reached far beyond doing paperwork; she wanted to get out into the community and learn how she could represent the interests of the people around her. Orji spent her final semester at CSU interning with Representative Kyle Mullica, a member of the Colorado House of Representatives from the 34th district in Adams County.
She was able to work on legislation that was community-oriented and focused on improving the working conditions of healthcare workers across Colorado. “In my role, I helped out with conducting research, organizing press documents, and most excitingly, engaging with constituents to figure out how we can create legislation that will advance community needs,” Orji said.
Orji had the opportunity to engage with a variety of different people, from different parts of the state, all with unique backgrounds. “Opening yourself up to the people around you can get you meaningful connections, help you learn about different career paths, and also get you some free food, if you’re lucky,” she says. She knew the internship would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for her to connect with state legislators, so she made sure to spend time outside of the office at the State Capitol getting to know different legislators, their aides, and other interns. “This experience has allowed me to discover different career pathways, and how I can use the power of intentional conversation to expand my network in the most meaningful way possible,” says Orji.
After graduation, Orji landed a position as executive assistant and communications coordinator with Serve Colorado, the Lieutenant Governor’s Commission on Community Service. In this role, she uses the interpersonal and communication skills she gained during the legislative internship to connect and engage with community members on the type of programs they need in their community. “This is the kind of work I see myself doing, work that is hands-on, engaging, and makes a direct impact on communities across the state, and I’m very grateful that I’m getting to do work like this straight out of college,” she says.
With the new year upon us, the Colorado General Assembly prepares to convene for the 2023 Regular Session and a new round of CSU legislative interns prepare for their opportunity to gain real-world work experience in state government and public policy.