While some students at the University of Indianapolis are preparing for their 8 a.m. classes, others—including senior political science and pre-law major Aml Alkhatib and junior political science majors Joe Zumpano and Sarah King—are on their way to full-time internships at the Indiana State House.
Zumpano is interning for Short Strategies Group, a lobbying firm that consults, monitors, advocates and lobbies legislation at the local, state and federal levels for their clients. He works taking notes in committee meetings and House and Senate sessions and copying and filing bills.
Alkhatib is interning with the Indiana Senate Democrats, specifically working for State Sen. Greg Taylor, D-33, and his legislative assistant.
King is interning for the Indiana Senate Republicans, working with both State Sen. Jon Ford, R-38, and State Sen. Victoria Spartz, R-20, and their shared legislative assistant.
Their internships began just after the first of the year and will last until the end of the legislative session in mid-March. Alkhatib and King said that they handle constituent calls, researching and organizing bills, taking notes in committee meetings and managing their senators’ schedules. King said that her favorite part of the job is speaking with constituents.
“People call in with issues and questions that you would never think of,” King said. “So that’s just really interesting to get to talk to people like that.”
Alkhatib said that she also enjoys speaking with constituents, as well as the fast-paced environment of the statehouse. However, her favorite part is having an inside perspective on the senators and the legislative process.
“We [citizens] see what the senators do from the outside, but when you work inside, you start to see the little things about each senator,” Alkhatib said. “Like this senator likes his coffee this way, or he does things this way or in session he does this. It’s just the small things that you would never, ever notice on the outside.”
Legislative internships are important for connecting students with leaders in potential career fields—such as lobbying, campaign management or legislative assisting—learning what positions they like and do not like and complementing their course work, according to Assistant Professor of Political Science Laura Merrifield Wilson.
“I also think it’s [internships] important because most of what we’re doing is training you academically, but I want my students to graduate knowing not just what we talk about from a scholarship perspective, not just what the books say, but having done it as well,” Wilson said. “And internships are the perfect
experience for that. I think it’s a good complement for the learning, the knowing, the reading, the saying and then the actual doing and the hands-on application for it.”
Wilson is in charge of internship programs for the political science department. Every year, she invites recruiters from the Indiana legislature, lobbying firms and other political organizations to speak to her classes to encourage students to apply for internships.
This recruitment was what first sparked both King and Alkhatib’s interest in a legislative internship.
“I was applying to jobs…but then, when they [recruiters] came to us this year, I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to do it,” Alkhatib said. “’I need to. I’m going to set my foot down. I’ve got a good resume. Let’s do it.’ So I did.”
Not all political internships are posted or formally recruited for, Wilson said. She hears about several of the positions by word of mouth and being out in the community interacting with legislators and community leaders. This was how she connected Zumpano to his internship.
According to Wilson, she was on the set of Inside Indiana Business with creator and host Gerry Dick when she was introduced Frank Short, the chairman and CEO of Short Strategy Group. When she mentioned that she had students who wanted to do internships at lobbying firms, Short asked if she had any students still looking for an internship.
“This was the end of November, so the state legislative internships had already been decided. There was another lobbying firm I knew had already hired interns. I knew I didn’t have a lot of students,” Wilson said. “I did have one that was really good that hadn’t picked up and that was perfect, and that was Joe [Zumpano]. I said, ‘Well, yeah, actually I have someone. Let me get his resume.’ I emailed Joe from my phone this horrible email like, ‘Hey, send me your resume real quick. I’ll explain it later.’ And he did, and so I passed it on to Frank [Short].”
Wilson said that she followed up with Short a few days later and that Zumpano was brought in for an interview. Shortly after, Zumpano was offered the position.
“It [getting the internship] honestly was kind of stressful because it’s a fulltime job, so I had to clear my whole schedule and I had to clear it with my coaches,” Zumpano said. “I was kind of stressed out at the time because I didn’t think I was going to get it, so I didn’t think I was going to have to worry about it. But after that, I was really excited.”
Zumpano, King and Alkhatib said that they have enjoyed learning about and being part of the legislative process. According to Alkhatib, because they are sitting in committee meetings and senate sessions, the interns know why certain bills do not pass.
King said that seeing the process carried out has been eye-opening.
“The process is the biggest thing because everyone kind of knows the basic ‘oh it goes to the House, it goes to the Senate,’ you watched the School House Rock video,” King said. “But actually seeing it happen just is an eye-opener to the process, I think. And then realizing how many people are actually involved with our state government and care about it, that’s been really interesting, too.”
The internships have also helped give Zumpano, Alkhatib and King a better idea of careers they want to pursue in the future. Alkhatib said that she hopes to get another position in state government after graduation. King is interested in gaining work experience before school and said that the internship has made her consider working in a position that interacts with the state government. Prior to his internship, Zumpano said that he had never considered working in politics or lobbying, but he now has interest in that field due to his experience.
Regardless of major, both Alkhatib and King encourage students with potential interest in working in government to apply for an internship within the Indiana legislature. In addition to offering a deeper understanding of the legislative process, the internship also helps develop professional skills in areas like communication and dress, Alkhatib said.
“It’s just a good experience no matter what your major is,” Alkhatib said. “I feel like people get afraid [to apply]. They think ‘Oh, well, I’m not into law or government,’ and you don’t have to be
super passionate about it [law and government] to want to be a part of it, and that’s important.”