Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives


Texas Politics 101

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    Ten students from Southwestern are doing internships at the State Capitol this semester through the Texas Politics Internship program, which is directed by political science professor Tim O’Neill (front). (Photo by Lance Holt)
    © 2013 Lance Holt
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    As a seventh-generation Texan, working at the State Capitol has a special meaning for senior Katherine Tanner. She is interning for the state senator who represents her hometown of Fredericksburg. (Photo by Lance Holt)
    © 2013 Lance Holt
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    Junior Octivie Marcel is interning in the office of Rep. Roberto Alonzo from Dallas. She said the Texas Politics Internship program has helped her decide to pursue a career in politics. (Photo by Lance Holt)
    © 2013 Lance Holt
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    Sophomore political science major Erica Hernandez is working with the House Democratic Caucus. (Photo by Lance Holt)
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    Political science professor Tim O’Neill teaches a weekly class at the state capitol for all the students who are participating in the Texas Politics Internship program. (Photo by Lance Holt)
    © 2013 Lance Holt

Ten Southwestern students are interning at the Texas Capitol this semester 

As a political science and French double major, junior Octivia Marcel had thought about pursuing a career in politics, but was not sure whether it was really for her.

That all has changed this semester.

Marcel is one of 10 students from Southwestern who are doing internships at the State Capitol this semester through Southwestern’s Texas Politics Internship program. The program, which is directed by political science professor Tim O’Neill, combines classes on Texas politics with real-world internships in the Texas House of Representatives, the state Senate or various state agencies.

Marcel has been working two days a week in the office of Rep. Roberto Alonzo from Dallas. She is one of six interns working with Rep. Alonzo, but her internship is unique because there are no hired staff members in her office. As such, Marcel does all the work of a staff member, an experience she has enjoyed immensely.

“Since we are doing the work that staffers would do, we’re getting the full-on experience of working for a representative or congressman, and I’m gaining a lot of knowledge,” Marcel said.

Marcel said she was wary of entering the political field before this internship, but her new-found understanding of the system has confirmed her desire to enter this field after graduation. She plans to enter law school after she completes her studies at Southwestern.

“I was considering becoming a politician, but my main concern was if I really wanted to do it. Now that I’m here and actually experiencing it, my hopes are higher than before. I feel like the best aspect of this internship is having the confidence that I actually want to do this. The fact that I now know that this is for me is the best thing I’m getting out of this internship.”

Marcel said her admiration of Rep. Alonzo also has encouraged her to pursue politics. He has shown her that there is more to politics than the stereotypes.

“Even if he’s meeting with a lobbyist or another representative, he’ll cut that meeting short to talk with his constituents,” she said. “He does his best to help all people. You don’t generally hear the nice side of representatives, but it’s not always about money or being reelected. It’s about what the constituents and what the people want, and I’ve really seen that now.”

Senior Katherine Tanner, who is double majoring in political science and international studies, is working for her home district’s senator, Troy Frasier. She often knows constituents who contact the office and where they live, which enables her to meet their needs more efficiently.

“I actually have a huge connection to my district,” Tanner said. “I’m a seventh generation Texan, and my fifth-great-grandfather was one of the first three Texas Rangers. He was a superintendent of the area east of the Trinity River, which is lined with the district I’m working for today. From five generations back until today, my family has been in this district, building it before Texas was even a republic, so working here is really meaningful.”

Tanner arrives before any other person on the mornings she works, and for the next eight hours, she never slows down between answering phone calls, reading and answering mail, updating media contacts for press releases and following the Natural Resources Committee, which Sen. Frasier chairs.

“I deal a lot with people every day,” Tanner said. “I’m the first person they see when they walk in the office, and so there’s a lot of juggling: reading this bill, answering this call and welcoming this person. I have a lot more appreciation now for what happens from the constituent to the bill being passed into law. It’s a major process that eventually affects all of us. There’s no way to fully grasp it unless you’re in the office and seeing it happen.”

Sophomore political science major Erica Hernandez is working with the House Democratic Caucus. “Being in a caucus, you get to interact with a lot of different members, so you get to see how people interact in the capital,” she said. “The experience is really interesting.”

Hernandez also works two days a week in the office doing whatever needs to be done.

“Doing an internship in large blocks of time like we do gives you the ability to take on larger tasks and complete them, and it really gives you a feel for what it’s actually like,”

Hernandez said. “Being part of the decision-making and making a difference is really appealing.”

Each student interning at the capital this semester stressed how helpful this experience has been for their future. Not only has interning helped them decide that they really do (or do not) want to be where they are, but they all feel as if they are more prepared for their chosen career. Tanner especially believes that all students should get involved in internships of any kind.

“People should do internships,” she said. “I’ve done an array of them in fashion, the oil industry, all over the place. It’s so rewarding because internships can help pad that shock of the ‘real world.’ There’s still going to be one, but I think the more you’re exposed to different office environments, positive and negative, the better off you’re going to be when you graduate.”

– Devin Corbitt