Prior to 2008, Central Michigan University's staff would regularly see college interns working in various roles within Michigan's government. Very few, however, were from CMU.
They knew an organized effort was needed to infuse Lansing with more maroon and gold. That's how the
CMU Capital City Internship Program was born.
Since that time, more than 400 CMU students representing all of CMU's academic colleges have completed internships in numerous Michigan legislative, executive, state and special interest offices.
Two of these students — seniors Katilyn Alexander and Darrin Scholten — jumped head-first into the government landscape this academic year, gaining hands-on experiences in the lieutenant governor's office and the Michigan House of Representatives, respectively. Read and hear about their experiences below.
Combining her passions, making a difference
After a very competitive application and interview process, Alexander was selected as an intern in
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley's office in the fall of 2015. Her role then continued into the spring 2016 semester.
Alexander, a native of Kinde, Michigan, began her career at CMU with a plan of attending medical school and working with children with autism. She then decided to switch gears and focus on education for individuals with autism or neurological differences — which is how she ended up not only majoring in biology, but also public administration.
Someone told Alexander she should intern with Calley because of his extensive work in this area, and the Capital City Internship Program helped make it possible.
Alexander's internship included time scheduling and managing event logistics and even traveling with the lieutenant governor. Her passion, however, shines through as she talks about combining her internship with her dedication to helping those with special needs.
"The policy outreach and research was most important to me," Alexander said. "I did a lot with Kevin's Law and restraints and seclusions, which is for special education or people with neurological differences, which was the main focus of my undergraduate education. This internship has been a perfect fit for me."
Representing his home district
Darrin Scholten feels right at home in his Michigan House of Representatives internship. Mostly because Rep. Daniela Garcia, his boss, represents the 90th house district – the area Scholten calls home.
Scholten, a Holland native, is a political science major with a concentration in public administration and a legal studies minor. In his role in Lansing, he works primarily on constituent relations — dealing with people's issues, concerns and grievances.
"Government can be very confusing, so I spend my time helping them understand it a little bit better," he said.
Scholten says his classes at CMU built a foundation for his internship, but the experience he received from being directly immersed in government is something he could not have learned in the classroom.
"In a textbook you can read about how it should be or certain ways of doing things, but it isn't always like that," he said. "Seeing it acted out in the flesh is completely different."
"Government can be very confusing, so I spend my time helping them understand it a little bit better."
CMU senior Darrin Scholten
Charles Visser, Garcia's legislative assistant, can attest to Scholten's preparedness for the internship.
"Darrin had a good understanding of the legislative process coming in and having that general understanding really gave him a leg up as opposed to others who may take on this position," Visser said.
Scholten says the internship has given him a general sense of where he wants to take his career. He will continue working with Rep. Garcia in his hometown of Holland this summer as he prepares to graduate in August. And, well, he hasn't ruled out running for office someday.
A long history in the capital city
It began with only a few students, but the unique Capital City Internship Program at CMU has grown to be very successful.
"This program is an outstanding opportunity for our students to learn the critical role government plays on campus and in our communities," said Kathy Wilbur, CMU's vice president for government and external relations, who was instrumental in developing the program.
When Wilbur presented a formalized internship effort in Lansing, CMU Career Services stepped up to assist.
Career Services' Erik Simon – who manages the program – says it is a resource hub for students. He and his colleagues advise students throughout the process, from researching opportunities to securing an internship.
"We're here to offer students support but also to empower them to do it themselves," he said.
Simon and his team also work to set up networking events for the students interning in Lansing.
In the eight years since its inception, Wilbur's team has worked with Career Services to evolve the program.
"At the beginning, we marketed only to political science students. We quickly realized, however, that we could expand to not only government offices but also state departments so interns could represent all CMU colleges in a variety of majors," Wilbur said.
The interns have since come from a variety of programs across campus, including environmental science, biology, business and human resources.
And while the internship experiences are valuable, the jobs that often follow are even more so.
"I've seen most internships through this program lead to full-time positions – whether in that particular office or piggy-backed into other opportunities," Simon said. "This program is vital for networking and making those connections."