The 27-year-old program that places students in congressional offices for hands-on experiences in politics was open solely to UH main campus and Texas Southern University students until this year. With funds from sponsors such as Houston Endowment, AT&T and Continental Airlines, this year's class also includes students from the University of Houston-Downtown.
"This internship is an incredible opportunity for politically minded students to get real-world experience in a legislative office," said Renée Cross, associate director of the CPP and director of the internship program. "The program was originally created to provide opportunities for the diverse student populations at UH and TSU. Now, the program will have an even broader reach." Leland interns participate in the political process in tangible ways that provide long-term rewards. They work an average of 40 hours per week over the spring semester in the Washington D.C. office of a congressional member. Their responsibilities include legislative research, project planning and attending events and meetings, as well as routine office duties. In addition, they attend a weekly seminar led by an on-site instructor.
"I was able to draft my first piece of legislation and work through the entire process all by myself, from the research to sending it to the Legislative Counsel to the Parliamentarian," said UH student Elizabeth Fernandez, who interned in the office of U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson in Dallas in early 2007. "I want to pursue a political career, and the internship opened up my eyes to so many other fields in government and the private sector."
The internship is the brainchild of the late Congressman Mickey Leland, who became involved in politics at a young age in Houston.
"Giving students the opportunity to be exposed to Washington-for many, to live outside of Houston for the first time-and to have the challenges of working on Capitol Hill as interns in his name, is a very special way to honor him," said Alison Leland, widow of Mickey Leland and lecturer in the UH Honors College, where she teaches American government. "My hope is that the internship pushes them to stretch the boundaries of what they decide to do in the future for school, work and the community." Leland was killed in a plane crash during a humanitarian visit to Ethiopia in August 1989.
Alison Leland says her husband especially was proud when students would fall in love with the political process and choose to pursue ambitions that improved their communities.
"I have always known how important it is to get involved in the issues that are of importance to me, but I did not consider politics until now," said Shelle Gordon, a Texas Southern University law student who interned in the office of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. "Now, I am considering coming back to work on Capitol Hill." The 2008 class includes the following students working in the offices of the respective members: John-Paul Cortez (Congressman Gene Green); Todd Hendricks (Congressman Al Green); LaKeisha McBride (Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson); Brian O'Connor (Congressman Ted Poe); Mary Panzu (Congressman Charles Gonzales); Eronn Putman (Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee); Erin Toolan (Congressman Nick Lampson); and Ralph Weatherspoon (Congressman Chet Edwards).
Established in 1981, the Center for Public Policy serves the Houston community as an impartial research organization within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Houston. The center's primary focus is public policy and economic research, the results of which are shared with the community.
For more information about the UH Center for Public Policy and its Government Internships, visit www.uh.edu/cpp/.
About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.