Legislative internship a robust, diverse experience

Madison Hobbs and Amber Tran, seniors in the University of Washington Bothell’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, spent winter quarter as interns with the Washington State Legislature. Both majors in Law, Economics & Public Policy, the students said the experience gave them a glimpse into potential career paths and enhanced their professional skills, all while also earning them academic credit.

Through the Washington State Legislative Internship Program, they received training in legislative ethics, writing and research; participated in mock committee hearings and floor debates; and attended seminars and workshops with state officials, policymakers and lobbyists.

They also made lifelong connections.

“When it was over, and we were saying our goodbyes,” said Tran, “I realized just how impactful this internship was — not only the experience and all we learned from everyone we worked with but also all the genuine relationships we made.

“They are people I can call my friends and not just somebody I added on LinkedIn.”

Insider access

Tran was assigned to the House of Representatives and worked for the offices of Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-SeaTac) and Rep. Brandy Donaghy (D-Everett). She spent a good portion of her time researching and gathering information about bills being discussed during the legislative session and needed to be prepared to present her findings at any given moment. She also reviewed constituents’ correspondence and reported on the issues about which they were most concerned.

Madison Hobbs and Amber Tran in Olympia

As a Senate Committee Services intern, Hobbs sat in on meetings of the Health, Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committees, often attending three different committees each day and then summarizing testimony from the speakers. To Hobbs, this was a key learning experience.

“Because I was sitting in on policy committees, I had the opportunity to hear different opinions on bills from all sides, learn how senators viewed the issues and find out what questions they deemed most important.

“I became very aware of the political process and the committees’ policies.”

Wider horizons

All interns also took part in a number of other activities. During the first week, for example, Hobbs and Tran learned professional etiquette specific to their roles as interns and how to write in ways that were relevant to certain tasks, such as how to draft a constituent email versus writing about a bill.

Along with interns from other universities and colleges, they participated in a mock budget committee hearing, working through all the different responsibilities within the committee. “Playing various roles was really fun,” Tran said, “and it gave me an idea for something I want to pursue in the future.”

They learned through job shadowing, Hobbs with Senate Democratic Caucus members and Tran with the Office of the Attorney General.

Hobbs sat in on planning meetings and observed members advising senators on how their party’s values aligned with a bill being heard and how to cast their vote accordingly. Tran held informational interviews with representatives from three divisions of the AG’s office — Children, Youth & Families; Consumer Protection; and Education — learning about their jobs and career paths.

“We both came out of the job shadow with a newfound expansion of the horizon of possibilities of what we can do in our future. It gave us a better sense of direction,” said Hobbs. 

Another step

Perhaps the most eye-opening activity was a floor debate in which the two UW Bothell students argued one of two remaining bills as if they were members of the House of Representatives.

Amber Tran, LEPP major and legislative intern, courtesy photo

Both were nervous initially. They had to present to a full gallery of witnesses and to Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), the speaker of the state House of Representatives. But both left the exercise feeling extremely proud and more confident.

“As I’m not very good at public speaking, the debate gave me an opportunity to grow in that area,” said Tran. “At first, I thought I didn’t do well. Then other interns came up to me and complimented me.

“That made me realize it’s a skill and goal to work toward. That it wasn’t about the end product but was just another step to be good at speaking in front of a crowd.”

Doubts overcome

Tran and Hobbs said that these internship experiences have proven applicable both to their educational goals and their career goals.

Madison Hobbs, LEPP major and legislative intern, courtesy photo

“For me, my big goal as an LEPP major at UW Bothell and in turn this internship was figuring out what I want to do after I graduate,” said Hobbs. “Networking especially gave me a better idea of careers I want to work toward. I definitely can see myself as a lobbyist in the future.”

Tran agreed. “I can see myself in public service, but I also now know there are many more possibilities than I first thought.”

In the last week of the program, Hobbs and Tran gave presentations about their internship to an audience of nearly 70 interns and program sponsors. Both remarked that they had trials along the way, but in the end the payoffs outweighed the challenges.

“I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome. Initially, I felt like I didn’t belong,” said Hobbs. “But thanks to the civic education team reassuring me I was doing a good job and to my friends’ continued support, I realized that I really did deserve to be there.”

Represent yourself

Tran had a similar yet contrasting experience.

“Being an Asian American in a predominately white space, I was really lucky to work with and witness powerful women of color, including Reps. Cindy Ryu (D-Lynnwood), Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-Seattle) and My-Linh Thai (D-Bellevue),” Tran said. “Seeing Asian women in these positions of power made me realize the importance of having people of color in those roles to inspire others — to remind us that we not only belong, but that we deserve to represent ourselves.”

Both students highly recommend others apply for this internship.

“You don’t have to be an LEPP major to be a legislative intern,” said Hobbs. “You need only dedication and a willingness to learn and serve.”

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