Students take on civic engagement in Ted Stevens internship program

The University of Alaska Southeast hosts a program for students to work full-time as interns for the Alaska Legislature. The Senator Ted Stevens Legislative Internship Program has been sending them to Juneau since the 1988 session.

“It is the best way to learn about Alaska politics — legislative politics in particular — in the state of Alaska and possibly in the United States,” Glenn Wright, the program’s statewide coordinator, said. “Our legislature is such a phenomenal environment for an internship program such as ours that interns walk out of the program with such tremendous depth and understanding of the way legislative process works.”

Interns from the 2018 30th Legislature with Governor Bill Walker, members of the Ted Stevens Foundation, UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield and UA President Jim Johnsen at the Governor's House. Photo credit: Seanna O'Sullivan

Students from any of the three major UA campuses can submit applications that consist of a resume, writing sample and other requirements to be considered for an internship. When placing students into senators’ and representatives’ offices, the program helps facilitate communication between the two parties so that the best fits can be found.

The program does not make the placement decisions, Wright said, and it’s up to the offices and students to explore their needs and interests.

Kaitlyn Stansberry, who studies political science at UAF, is interning with Sen. Peter Micciche for this session. In his office, she has a range of tasks that comprises of helping with bills or working on newsletters. It usually isn’t consistent and always changes.

“It’s like having a full-time job only sometimes you don’t have extra to do,” Stansberry said. “I’m really lucky when I don’t have anything extra to do, maybe I can leave a couple minutes early or not have to work weekends.”

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Stansberry just finished up her seminars that are part of the program. During 90 days of the legislative session, these seminars are required for students to attend to contribute towards their credits.

For Tasha Elizarde, she’s using her gap year after having graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School to work at the legislature with Rep. Ivy Sponholz.

“I knew that I wanted to do something with public policy and learn more about some of the interests that I had,” Elizarde said.

Elizarde has staffed for various committees and is currently carrying House Bill 138, which proposes to name the month of March as Sobriety Awareness Month. She said that she sees herself working longer with the legislature.

“It’s definitely changed how I think about myself working in the legislature, especially because I don’t see many women working in politics,” Elizarde said.

Alliana Salanguit is Rep. David Guttenberg’s Chief of Staff for 2018 session. She interned with him in 2017 and will graduate in December. Photo credit: Seanna O'Sullivan

Wright said that he has seen interns stay on after finishing their internships, and Alliana Salanguit is one example.

She finished the program last year with Rep. David Guttenberg and was asked to become his Chief of Staff for this year’s session. Though she could have graduated this spring from UAA with a major in economics, she decided to stay in Juneau.

“It would be way to hectic with being down here,” Salanguit said. “I’ll be graduating in December.”

She recommends the internship and said that it has been a great experience.

“I would absolutely encourage anybody who’s even slightly interested in local and state politics… You learn a lot of skills and the people are great down here,” Salanguit said. “You get treated like full-time staff; it’s not like I was going to get coffee or file papers. I was helping with legislation and helping with the budget.”

The program helps link students to politics despite what they are studying, Wright said, since they can major in political science, humanities or other fields.

“Essentially what we’re doing is channeling the best and brightest from the University of Alaska System into politics in the state of Alaska, so it’s a real benefit to the legislature and, more broadly, to Alaskans,” Wright said.

Application packets are due Oct. 15 and each major campus has a designated coordinator for the program. UAA has a page on the political science website that outlines the program, requirements for the application, as well as contact information for the coordinator.