DC Interns
(From left) UTSA student, Wanda Casillas;
project conductor, Catherine Pollock; and UTSA student, Mitra Miri

UTSA Honors College students intern in D.C.

By Cindy Brockwell
Student Affairs Development Assistant

(Aug. 9, 2006)--You may remember heading back to school as a kid after a long, lazy summer. Your mind was still on hanging out at the mall, or baseball, or a trip to the coast, or maybe playing hop scotch, depending on your age.

Chances are, at some point, your first assignment from an English teacher was to write an essay on what you did over the summer. For many of us, there wasn't much to write about--we had no money, and we hung out with our friends--period.

Two talented UTSA Honors College students will have much more to talk about when they return in August. They were among the fortunate 10 to intern this summer with the American Medical Students' Association (AMSA) in Reston, Virginia--just outside Washington, D.C. The other undergraduate students participating in the program came from Duke University, University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Richmond.

Wanda Casillas, a senior Psychology major, and Mitra Miri, a senior Biology major, spent a part of their summers interning with the legislative affairs director for the American Medical Students Association.

For El Paso native Wanda Casillas, who will graduate from UTSA in December, the AMSA Health Policy Internship was a real eye-opener on the legislative process. "I really enjoyed having an intimate perspective on how policy is introduced, created, or lobbied for or against," she said. "I think that prior to this internship, I was a little naïve about the policy-making process."

And while Wanda wasn't a fat-cat, cigar-smoking, highly paid lobbyist, she did have an opportunity to meet Senators and House members from Ohio during a legislative reception.

Whatever her preconception of lobbyists was, she was hooked. "I am absolutely convinced that I want to be directly involved in lobbying for healthcare and education reform as my career unfolds," Wanda said. "AMSA taught me about the feasibility of making a difference on issues that are important to me."

While in D.C., Wanda's internship included researching the legislative agenda for AMSA for 2006-2007. She researched current and upcoming bills related to healthcare policy, researched AMSA's position on past bills, and compiled reports on issues of importance to AMSA members.

Wanda is clear on her plans after graduation and wants to charter schools with curriculums rooted in current psychological theories of cognition. She added that she is also interested in continuing to advocate for healthcare reform, specifically mental healthcare reform.

After her four-week internship with AMSA, Wanda traveled to Ithaca, New York, for a second internship--this time at Cornell University. She explained, "I am working with a psychologist who helped to develop a new theory that underscores the cognitive process of rational decision-making."

Mitra Miri, also completed two internships this summer, moving on to Harvard after completing her AMSA internship in D.C. Mitra was so busy at Harvard that she didn't have an opportunity to talk with us.

UTSA's Honors College encourages students to work in their fields prior to graduation, and students may earn credit for honors internship experiences.

Just before the spring semester started, Dr. Ann Eisenberg, Associate Dean of the Honors College, received a phone call from Catherine Pollock, then-president of the Medical Students' Association at UTHSC-SA. In response to Hurricane Katrina and other events, Ms. Pollock was hoping to conduct a research project on the use of medical students in disaster relief. She wanted to develop a policy document, and she hoped that some bright UTSA undergrads might want to help with the research.

Seven Honors College students rose to the challenge. In addition to the two students mentioned previously, Jackie Adams, (junior, Psychology), Keith Joseph (senior, Biology), Cathy Ly (sophomore, Biology), Chris McColskey (sophomore, Biology) and Amanda Poplawsky (senior, Sociology and Anthropology) volunteered to work with Ms. Pollock, who later was offered the legislative affairs director position with AMSA.

One thing is clear: when it comes to summer internships, UTSA's slogan "Come here. Go far." takes on a whole new meaning.

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