Founders Day at the Colorado Capitol is not only an opportunity for legislators to have breakfast with CSU leaders like President Tony Frank. It’s also a chance for them to mingle with a group of young people in a program unlike any other in the state: CSU students who serve as legislative interns.
During the Feb. 9 Founders Day event at the Capitol, members of the spring 2017 cadre of CSU interns joined state lawmakers, Frank and other CSU System leaders to celebrate CSU’s 147th year as the state’s land-grant institution.
Each spring, the legislative internship — a 43-year-old program that Professor John Straayer of political science has overseen since 1980 — gives a couple dozen CSU students a rare firsthand glimpse into the inner workings of Colorado’s government twice a week.
More than 1,000 students have gone through the program, which is a six-credit practicum called “POLS 486A – Legislative Politics.” U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner was a legislative intern while attending CSU. So were state Rep. Dan Nordberg and Larimer County Commissioner Steve Johnson.
Straayer drives vanloads of the CSU students between Denver and Fort Collins on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the January-April legislative session. He says each intern is assigned to a lawmaker — or lobbyist — and handles a variety of duties, including research, monitoring committees, contacting constituents, drafting letters and time on the floor of the House and Senate.
“The legislators know that when they have a CSU student, that intern will be reliable,” Straayer says. “They’re going to be there, it’s predictable.”
Most of the interns are senior political science majors, he says, although other disciplines like journalism and agriculture are represented as well.
“There’s no comparable program in the state,” says Straayer, who is in his 50th year at CSU and is thinking about retiring in the near future. He’ll hand the reins of the program to his faculty colleague Robert Duffy after this semester.
“Maybe Professor Duffy can shepherd another 1,000 students through,” Straayer concludes with a laugh.
“I was chair of the department for eight years, and I can say that during that time I never heard a negative word about the internship program from students,” Duffy says. “In fact, quite the contrary — student evaluations of the experience were glowing, with many students saying it was the single best thing they had experienced while at CSU. Now, having been to the Capitol with John for the last four weeks, and having a chance to witness it firsthand, I can understand why. Students not only get to witness the legislative process, they are part of it.”
When asked how he feels about assuming responsibility for the program, Duffy adds, “I feel a little like the guy who had to play right field for the Yankees after Babe Ruth.”