Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Students interning at NYS Assembly

Mariana Dickson sits in the front row, fourth from the right, at a mock budget hearing with fellow interns at the New York State Assembly. Dickson is one of more than 100 interns accepted into the competitive internship program.



By Aleksandra Sidorova

Your friend or classmate might be helping New York make new laws. Three SUNY Plattsburgh students are spending the semester as legislative interns at the New York State Assembly.

“This is the first time in quite a while where we’ve had any students who applied to, much less were accepted by, this program,” Daniel Lake, associate professor of political science and chair of the department, wrote in an email. “It’s one of the top-notch internship programs.”

Political science major Mariana Dickson, double major in public relations and journalism Johanna Weeks and environmental studies major Kay Breen were one of up to 150 interns selected for the State Assembly’s internship. The program is competitive because students not only participate in legislative processes, but also get paid a stipend of $8,800 and receive 15 academic credits.

Dickson, a junior, said students interested in applying to the internship should research members they would like to work with. 

The interns work 9 to 5 from Monday to Friday. They also attend supplementary classes that acquaint them with State Assembly operations and relevant issues in the state. In a typical week, interns schedule meetings for their Assembly member, meet with lobbyists, research policy and write memos, review and sign bills together with their Assembly member and sit in on State Assembly sessions.

“It’s really not hard to manage at all, at least for me,” Dickson said. “I like it a lot more than my days on campus, just because it always feels like I’m doing something. I feel like in classes, sometimes you feel like, OK, you’re just reading and writing, whereas with this internship, you’re doing the real-life aspects. You can see what you’re going to do in your job and learning the basics of it.”

Dickson works for Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther — a Democrat, chair of the Assembly Mental Health Committee since 2013 and a mental health advocate. 

Weeks works for Assemblyman Lester Chang, a Republican and veteran whose work focuses on fighting crime and homelessness while supporting veterans and those returning to society after incarceration. Weeks said her work engages her in the challenge of representing someone’s views without letting her own get in the way.

“What I really love about my field is it’s such a necessity in every field,” Weeks said. “I think right now, being in politics and government would tie into communications in the way that you learn a lot of interpersonal skills because a lot of it is relaying his (Chang’s) opinions and his views. It’s really taking that step back and taking out the bias, which we learn a lot in journalism, to be able to effectively relay someone’s message.”

Dickson, who is originally from Troy, New York, 15 miles from Albany, lives at home. She said it’s a nice change of pace from Plattsburgh because being at home makes it easier to take care of herself and the puppy she got last semester.

“I’m liking it a little bit more than Plattsburgh because I can come home and relax and not have to do adulting too much, like with my own apartment,” Dickson said.

For Weeks, who fulfilled her graduation requirements in December, the internship helps the transition into the workforce. Originally from Saugerties, New York, she stays at a friend’s house.

“For me, this was just a way to push back going into the real world,” Weeks said. “I’m ready to graduate.”

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