The University of Houston honored eight students Friday who will spend the spring semester as congressional interns in Washington D.C. An afternoon reception was held at the UH Hilton to see off three UH and five Texas Southern University students who won positions in the Thurgood Marshall Congressional Internship Program.
The program was founded in 1981 by Mickey Leeland in an effort to provide opportunities for minorities.
Following the Hopwood decision, the selection was opened this year to non-minorities as well.
Symbolically, the students left for D.C. on Monday, the observation of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. They will return on April 20.
The program, which spends about $65,000 a year, is sponsored mainly by the Houston Endowment, and appointments are coordinated by the office of Sheila Jackson Lee.
Every year, eight to ten juniors and seniors are selected to work in various congressional offices, earning 12-15 credit hours towards their undergraduate degrees.
The students are also provided housing and a $1000-per-month stipend for expenses.
Junior interdisciplinary studies major Charla Gilliam, senior political science major Mulghetta Sium and junior political science major Jan Sarmiento are the honorees from UH.
UH intern coordinator Thor Christensen said, "We want to put our best foot forward when we send students. They represent the university. I'm very impressed with the three students we're sending this year."
The representatives from TSU are Marvin Scott, Aaron Watson, Athea Harris, Tamika Williams and Daphne Spinks.
"The students will be doing any number of tasks, from answering letters to constituents to dealing with bills and paperwork. They will be placed according to their individual interests and the needs of each office," said Harry Clack, intern coordinator for TSU.
"Mr. Clack said not to expect to write a proposal (for Congress), but that doesn't mean I won't try," said TSU junior business major Tamika Williams.
The students were selected from more than 30 applicants. Each had to submit a resume, transcript and writing sample which were reviewed by a panel of program directors from UH, TSU and Washington D.C.
The panel received a great diversity of applicants, with interests ranging from studies in education, to accounting and even biology.
"I'm want to be a teacher, but I see this as an opportunity to learn a lot about our legislative system," Gilliam said.
Qualified applicants were "grilled" by the panel with questions concerning their goals, abilities and interests, according to Clack.
"It was grueling, but worth it. I'm very excited to have this opportunity to help people and meet people," Gilliam said.
"For many who go, it's a life changing experience. We've sent about 150 students since the program began, and about 60-70% of those have a change of career goals because of their experience," Christensen said.
When they return, many students go into public office, graduate school or law school, he added.