By Naquanna Driver
The Mickey Leland Congressional Internship Program is recruiting juniors and seniors who are interested in working in congressional offices in Washington, D.C., for the Spring 1999 semester.
Richard Murray, director of the UH Center for Public Policy said the internship program allows students to gain knowledge of how Congress works, as well as invaluable work experience.
"Generally, we try to put interns in offices where the congressman or woman will give them a wide range of experiences," Murray said.
"(Students are) expected to go in and assume and share the routine office work, but hopefully they'll get to see the congressperson they're assigned to in action," he said.
The internship program was created 15 years ago by the late Congressman Mickey Leland when he recognized that minorities had little representation on Capitol Hill.
The program, which is coordinated for UH and Texas Southern University students, was originally designed to give minority and disadvantaged students first-hand experience and employment opportunities in government they would not normally be able to receive.
"Originally, the program was directed at minorities," Murray said. "But after the Hopwood decision, UH and TSU cannot impose those restrictions, but we do try to recruit students with disadvantaged backgrounds - students who have overcome difficult obstacles."
The Hopwood vs. Texas case was filed by four white, aspiring law students who alleged affirmative action denied them a place in law school at The University of Texas.
In 1996, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor, and Texas Attorney General Dan Morales released an official opinion that prohibited the "consideration of race and ethnicity" in all admissions and scholarship programs at Texas' public schools.
The program is managed through UH's Center for Public Policy and TSU's Career Planning and Placement Office and receives $40,000 a year in funding from the Houston Endowment. Panels from both universities choose six to eight students to participate in the internship program.
Since its inception, "somewhere between 125 and 150 students have gone through the program," Murray said.
The students who participate in the program are housed in dormitories and are given a $1,000 monthly stipend to cover living expenses such as food and transportation. Along with the monthly stipends, the interns' transportation to and from Washington is handled by the center through Continental Airlines, which donates round-trip tickets to the interns.
Interns also receive 15 hours of political science credit that can be applied to their academic program.
"If you're a political science major, you can use the credit towards your major requirement," Murray said. "If not, you can take them as part of your elective."
Kimberly Walters, a UH senior psychology major and Spring 1997 intern, was assigned to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston.
"I was very, very busy," Walters said. "We went to hearings, briefings. I attended everything from welfare reform to social security and it broadened my knowledge of politics in general. "If you can leave for a semester, it's a great experience."
Many of the interns gain experience that leads to job offers and even academic improvements.
"One of the greatest things, at least from a TSU standpoint, is that 95 percent or more of our students who participated went on to graduate," said Harry Clark, director of TSU's Cooperative Education and Placement Services.
Murray said the internship program can also help students move into professional positions. "Internships are the main gateway to congressional staff positions. If you have any interest in public service, these are gateway jobs," he said.
Interested students can pick up applications at the Center for Public Policy, Room 110, Heyne Building. The deadline to apply for the internship program is Nov. 10.
Reach Driver at firstname.lastname@example.org.