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Roadrunners in Austin: UTSA social work student reflects on Texas-sized internship

Valerie Sullivan and Joe Straus

UTSA student Valerie Sullivan (left) with Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus in his office

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(May 22, 2013) -- Since January, master's student Valerie Sullivan has logged nearly 1,000 hours as an intern in the office of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. The experience is helping her build a career in social work.

As an intern on Straus's policy team, Sullivan has been immersed in state public policy strategies, processes and procedures. Her day-to-day duties have been varied and challenging though mainly focused on policy analysis of licensing and administrative procedures. She has attended and reported on committee meetings addressing transportation, homeland security, and defense and veterans affairs. She also attended a state senate hearing on education with testimony by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and met with several Texas leaders including Attorney General Greg Abbott, Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and Gov. Rick Perry.

"Every day is different and brings many surprises," said Sullivan. "This placement has given me some amazing opportunities and assisted me with my professional and personal growth. Having the chance to be in a position to assist coalitions, advocacy groups and concerned citizens with their legislative priorities has truly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life."

In all, UTSA selected eight students to participate in the 2013 UTSA Legislative Scholars Program, coordinated by the UTSA Honors College and offered by the office of state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon. Interns are selected by demonstrating their commitment to public policy and public service.

In addition to Sullivan, UTSA's other 2013 Legislative Scholars include:

  • Amarro Nelson, a master's student in sociology, interns in the office of Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon;
  • Eliana Briceño, Spanish and sociology double major and legal studies minor, interns in the office of Rep. Dawnna Dukes;
  • Ana Cabrera-M., honors studies major, legal studies minor, and art history and criticism minor, interns in the office of Rep. Senfronia Thompson;
  • Samantha Link, business management major and legal studies minor, interns in the office of Rep. Rob Orr;
  • Corbin Marak, political science major and legal studies minor, interns in the office of Rep. Lois Kolkhorst;
  • Travis Miller, political science major and legal studies minor, interns in the office of Rep. José Menéndez and
  • Alexandra Rosales, criminal justice major and legal studies minor, interns in the office of Rep. Borris Miles.

McClendon and UTSA Development Board member John T. Montford worked collaboratively with UTSA to develop the Legislative Scholars Program in 2004. The scholars earn six hours of internship credit for participating in the program, funded by a generous $25,000 gift from the AT&T Foundation, and a $10,000 stipend during the program's five months to defray their expenses. They are responsible for their own housing, transportation and other expenses during their stay in Austin, where they are required to live to participate in the program.

"This program provides UTSA students with a rich insight into the policy-making procedures and strategies that are shaping Texas today," said Rogelio Saenz, dean of the College of Public Policy. "The public policy experience that these scholars receive as a result of their internships will prove itself invaluable to them as they continue on their career paths."

The 83rd Texas Legislature convened Jan. 8 at the State Capitol in Austin; it adjourns May 27. The Texas House of Representatives is composed of 150 members elected for two-year terms. The Senate includes 31 members. This year, a number of key topics on the session agenda such as transportation, gun control and education funding already have generated statewide headlines.

>> Learn more at the UTSA Legislative Scholars Program and UTSA Honors College websites.



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