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Eleven UTRGV students spend 85th Texas legislative session as interns

Eleven UTRGV students participated in the UTRGV Legislative Internship Program (VLIP) at the Texas State Capitol  during the 85th legislative session.

Eleven UTRGV students participated in the UTRGV Legislative Internship Program (VLIP) at the Texas State Capitol  during the 85th legislative session.  The VLIP was made possible with generous funding from the UTRGV Foundation. Pictured left to right at the State Capitol on RGV Day are interns Julio Garza, Jorge Garza, Ilse Irena, Arturo Limones, and  Alondra Galvan;  Rep. Rene Oliveira (Dist. 37); interns  Kassandra Aleman, Victoria Garcia, Ann Jacobo, and Carlos Pimentel. Interns not pictured were Melissa Garza and Sarahi Martinez. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

By Gail Fagan

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – JUNE 07, 2017 – Working as an intern at the 85th legislative session at the Texas State Capitol motivated Alondra Galvan,  a senior criminal justice major at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, to run for president of UTRGV’s student governing body, the Student Government Association.

The 20-year-old Brownsville native, who won the post while in Austin, said working in the legislative office of Rep. Rene Oliveira (Dist. 37) gave her valuable knowledge and experience to apply to her new SGA job, as well as to her career goals of becoming an attorney, a judge and, one day, Brownsville's mayor.

“I want to be involved in decisions that affect a lot of people," said Galvan, who got to work at the Capitol on issues involving Texas courts and infrastructure and to meet with constituents.

Oliveira, who is also Galvan’s state representative, allowed her to sit in on meetings in which she learned about issues Brownsville faces. She additionally learned about the needs of the university and UT System from Oliveira, a primary author of the legislation that created UTRGV.

“I'm grateful for this opportunity to go out of the Valley, learning from different people and cultures, and to experience what the world has to offer but also to go there and represent the Valley and our university,” she said.

ABOUT THE LEGISLATIVE INTERNSHIP PROGRAM

Galvan was one of 11 students participating in the UTRGV inaugural Legislative Internship Program (VLIP) this legislative session, which began Jan. 10 and ended May 29, 2017.
The VLIP, an academic program made possible with generous funding from the UTRGV Foundation, provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to serve as interns in the Texas Legislature during regular legislative sessions, which occur every two years.

The undergraduate students are required to be juniors or seniors and are provided an $8,000 stipend while working full time during the session. Applicants must have a minimum of 12 credit hours in political science with a 3.0 GPA in those courses and an overall GPA of 2.5. Upon completion, each intern receives six credit hours. Students from all majors are eligible to apply. 

“It is well-documented that internships, clinics and other experiential learning opportunities provide students with invaluable real-world experience and the VLIP has been especially valuable to our students who not only get to see laws being made but get to participate in every aspect, from the moment the ideas for legislation are presented to the time the bill becomes law," said Veronica Gonzales, vice president of the UTRGV Office of Governmental and Community Relations.

The eleven UTRGV students who participated as interns during the 85th Texas Legislative Session are pictured during RGV Day at the State Capitol with some of the RGV state legislators they served as well as UTRGV administrators including UTRGV President Guy Bailey. The UTRGV inaugural Legislative Internship Program was made possible with the support of the UTRGV Foundation. (Courtesy Photo)

The eleven UTRGV students who participated as interns during the 85th Texas Legislative Session are pictured during RGV Day at the State Capitol with some of the RGV state legislators  they served as well as UTRGV administrators including UTRGV President Guy Bailey. The UTRGV inaugural Legislative Internship Program was made possible with the support of the UTRGV Foundation. (Courtesy Photo)

‘IT FORCES YOU TO GROW UP’

Ann Jacobo, 22, from Brownsville, has a double major in government and communications. She was more familiar than most interns with the legislative process because she worked in the local district office of Rep. Eddie Lucio III (Dist. 38) in fall 2015 and fall 2016.

However, it was the first time Jacobo had ever lived away from home or been to Austin.

“It was hard, but it forces you to grow up, mature, and understand that you won’t always have your parents there to do things for you,” she said.

Jacobo, who is considering a career in international law and plans to run for office in the future, described working on everything from printing out postcards to drafting legislation during the session.

Dedicated to working out, like her boss Lucio, she was additionally assigned to lead the Lucio-initiated Capitol Wellness Club in weekday runs and yoga sessions for other interns, staff and legislators. She took on the role of overseeing the legislator’s social media channels, newsletters and press releases, all subject to staff approval, and served as an assistant clerk for the Rules and Resolutions Committee, which Lucio chairs.  

While Jacobo was disappointed in the outcome of a bill she gathered information on – SB 4, the Sanctuary Cities Bill – she said the opportunity to intern during the session was enlightening and invaluable.

“Being up here, you are in full wake-up mode,” she said. “This is not simple. It is not just a project in class. Everything you do here is affecting your state and your community.”

LEARNING AND LONG HOURS

Intern Carlos Pimentel, 22 and a political science major from Edinburg, is a self-described “politics junkie” who wanted to go beyond the local district office of Rep. Terry Canales (Dist. 40), where he worked in the fall 2016 semester.

“To see Rep. Canales in action really interested me, and I wanted to know more about the legislative process,” Pimentel said. “His mentorship has boosted my aspirations to be an attorney and assured me that this is the route I want to take.”

Pimentel said that while researching bills and performing the many other duties required for Canales’ two committees, he became familiar with many Texas statutes and the long hours a 140-day legislative session requires.

“You really have to put yourself out there to get stuff done. We filed over 60 bills,” he said. “It really opened the eyes of other people at the Capitol that we are really trying to make Texas and our district better and doing what we can to help our constituents.”

Pimentel said he is thankful for the Foundation’s support to provide a stipend.

“Having the stipend really helped many of us. Austin expenses can be pretty high compared to the Valley,” he said. “Being able to have interns represent the Valley and knowing what we are capable of was a great eye opener to a lot of people. RGV is a great place, and sometimes people have a very stereotypical view of the border region. I hope this program expands next year and keeps moving forward.”

The other students who served as interns this session include: Kassandra Aleman (Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa - Dist. 20), Victoria Garcia (Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. - Dist. 27), Jorge Garza (Rep. Ryan Guillén – Dist. 31), Julio Garza (Sen. Judith Zaffirini - Dist. 21), Melissa Garza (Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr. – Dist. 36), Ilse Irena (Rep. Armando Martinez – Dist. 39), Arturo Limones (Rep. Oscar Longoria – Dist. 35) and Sarahí Martinez (Rep. Bobby Guerra – Dist. 41). 

WIDE-RANGING BENEFITS

The student’s academic adviser, Dr. Ruth Ann Ragland, senior lecturer in the UTRGV Department of Political Science, oversaw the weekly logs, book reviews and final reports, all VLIP participation requirements.

“The VLIP interns have had a marvelous opportunity to connect their classroom knowledge to real-world experience in legislative process in their state Capitol. These internships provide mentoring from elected officials and seasoned professional staff, opening pathways for future careers and public service,” Ragland said. “Internships truly are life-changing, and it’s wonderful that our students have had this enriching experience.”

At the end of the session, the VLIP interns were honored with resolutions from both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate.

Richard Sanchez, UTRGV associate vice president for Governmental Relations, describes the VLIP as a wonderful benefit for UTRGV students, as well as for the university’s legislative partners who have benefitted from having high caliber full-time staff members throughout the session.

“Participating in the legislative process from within a state Capitol office is something that few people have the opportunity to accomplish,” he said. “As for the success of the program, I think it is best measured by the satisfaction of the host offices and the testimonials of the students. In both cases, the program has made very high marks.”

MEDIA CONTACTS

Gail.Fagan@UTRGV.edu
Senior Writer / 956-665-7995

Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications / 956-665-2742