By: James Duffy

Temple University political science senior Connor Graf decided fall 2019 was the right time to see where his degree could take him.

In his case, it took him to Pennsylvania’s State Capitol building in Harrisburg, along with 12 other Temple students, all part of the Pennsylvania Capital Semester Program offered by Temple’s Institute for Public Affairs and Temple University Harrisburg. Interning with the House State Government Committee and assigned to the Republican research staff, Graf had already worked directly with multiple House members, interviewed a chairman, met with the governor twice, spoke with the Speaker of the House, sat in on legislative meetings, been introduced on the House floor and had research he completed used by legislators by the halfway mark of the semester.

“I wanted to gain first-hand experience that is simply not possible sitting in a classroom. Having the opportunity to further my education while working in the State Capitol building made for a once in a lifetime experience,” says Graf, who’s completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees by May 2021 through the master of public policy 4+1 program. “The opportunity to learn about working day-to-day in the legislative process will benefit me even before entering the workforce. Throughout the internship, I was able to acquire knowledge from real work situations and witness the day-to-day job duties that can be expected in a research role.”

Since 2009, the Pennsylvania Capital Semester has provided more than 130 Temple students from a wide variety of majors the opportunity to explore government affairs, policymaking and implementation first-hand while being full-time students and staying on track to graduation, according to Institute for Public Affairs Director Joseph P. McLaughlin. Internship placements include executive branch agencies, the state legislature and government-related private and non-profit employers, including lobbying and public affairs firms, and major interest groups.

Students interested in learning more about the Capital Semester in Harrisburg and the similarly structured Washington Semester in the nation’s capital city should attend the information session from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday, February 20, in Anderson Hall 821. 

The Fab Five

In fall 2019, Michelle Atherton, IPA associate director, nominated five Capital Semester students, including Graf, for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Bipartisan Management Committee (BMC) Fellowships. The House awarded all five with fellowships.

The Capital Semester consists of 15 credits—up to nine for the internship and six in two courses, State Politics and Policy and an internship seminar, Public-Private Cooperation in Public Policymaking and Program Implementation—offered at Temple University Harrisburg, located just across the street from the Capitol Building.

Sometimes interns even land jobs immediately after graduation, Dr. McLaughlin says. Public health major Jake Heintzelman interned with the House Health Committee during fall 2019, graduated from Temple in December and in February 2020 began working as an analyst for the House’s Legislative Policy and Research Office.

Political science senior Sean Welch interned with the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

“I was involved in the research for a recently proposed ban on flavored vaping products. I truly feel like I’m a critical part of the team; I attend meetings and hearings,” says Welch. “The Capital Semester at Harrisburg offers a lot of hands-on involvement—you really learn how the sausage is made in terms of how state government works. I wanted to focus on climate change and community advocacy.”

Katherine Weaver, who is studying political science and global studies, said interning with the minority staff of the House Judiciary Committee opened her eyes to a wide range of perspectives. 

“In Harrisburg, lawmakers, stakeholders and advocates come together from all over the state, and their views reflect that political diversity,” says Weaver. “Though I don't always agree with the people I interact with, I know it's important to hear their sides on key issues so I can understand the many different perspectives in Pennsylvania, the United States and the world.”

BMC scholarship recipient Penny Pappas interned with both the House Democratic Human Services Committee and the House Democratic State Government Committee. 

“As an intern in both committees, my responsibilities included legislative research, writing bill analyses, co-sponsorship memos, press releases and doing constituent services,” recalls Pappas. “I also had the opportunity to attend committee hearings, stakeholder meetings and House sessions. For my final project, I had to draft my own piece of original legislation and present it in front of my caucus. Having this experience on your résumé sets you apart and makes potential employers realize you are serious about your work.”

Political science senior Charles Oberdick says his internship experience with the House Democratic Education Committee helped him understand that “communication and cooperation are the keys to success in a group setting. The staff in Harrisburg is great, and the professors are kind and helpful. Everyone in Harrisburg wants you to succeed in your internship, but it is up to you to put in the effort to make it happen.”

Beginning in spring 2020, the Capital Semester Program will be administered by the political science department. Applications for the program will be accepted throughout the year by Erin Dwyer, program coordinator for the Political Science Department. The competitive deadline for a possible fellowship from the House of Representatives is Monday, April 20, for fall 2020.

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