State legislative internship provides wealth of experience

Jamison Lamp

Jamison Lamp

Imagine an internship that offers the best of both worlds: education and profit. The South Dakota legislative intern program does all of this and more.

“South Dakota legislative internship is one of the best available. The legislature doesn’t maintain a staff, which makes the internship a better learning experience,” Del Lonowski, a political science professor, said.

Internships are available to college students from accredited universities. Those interested must submit an application, do an interview through the Digital Dakota Network – a statewide interactive video communications system – and offer letters of recommendation.

“It surprised me that it wasn’t more intensive,” said Virginia Berg, a general studies and journalism major who is interested in applying for the 2009 internship. “They interview you over DDN.”

During their internship, students can earn up to eight credits for upper division general electives, said Gary Aguiar, an assistant professor of political science. The program has no course requirements and is open to any major, but there is a strong preference towards juniors and seniors. Students are also able to choose the political party they will work for to ensure a comfortable working environment.

The application deadline is Oct. 15, with interviews held Oct. 22 through Nov. 7. The announcement of interns will be Nov. 21.

The internships pay $5000 or $125 per day.

“I did make money,” Donni Anderson, former SDSU student and intern said. “Rent and gas were the biggest expenses.”

Interns must provide their own transportation and housing. The Legislative Research Council (LRC) provides a list of different homes, rooms or apartments available. Hotels and motels also offer special rates during the legislative sessions.

“I got into a residence and rented a bedroom; this saved money,” Anderson said.

Anderson graduated in the spring of 2008 with a degree in political science. She is now using some of the skills she learned as an intern by working on her doctorate in government at the University of Maryland.

With minimal staff in the legislature, interns perform a wide variety of tasks.

“Each intern is assigned three or four legislators to do research, [correspond] with constituents and write up some statements,” Anderson said.

According to the legislative intern handbook, accessible through, an intern’s schedule consists of attending committee meetings, caucus and the daily sessions.

Other duties include scheduling meetings and monitoring legislation.

“[Interns] are the staffers,” Aguiar said, “South Dakota has very small professional staff, which involves the interns in the nitty-gritty of legislative work.”

Through their duties, interns can encounter long hours of work.

The LRC handbook warns that nearing the end of the session, debates can run into the evening and nighttime hours.

Students are required to maintain full-time student status throughout the internship, though.

Aguiar works with students to achieve this goal. There is a night class offered in Pierre through the University of South Dakota called “South Dakota Legislative Issues” that is an opportunity to earn three credits.

Some students also take online classes, he said.

If students cannot afford to lose a whole semester, there are summer internships available through SD Executive Agencies, Aguiar said.

Still, many students are willing to sacrifice a part of their semester to spend time in the legislature.

“It sounds like good opportunity to see how government works,” Berg said.

“I would recommend it; it was really fun, and [I] learned stuff I would never have learned in any other way,” Anderson said.

She also added that the most memorable part of her internship was the controversial debates over guns being allowed on campus and seeing how lobbyists work behind the scenes.

Students interested in the legislative internship can visit the LRC Web site, which contains more information and the application.