FROM READERS: Civic Leaders Internship Program puts MU students in government settings

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Melissa Gilstrap is a senior at MU, majoring in journalism and English. She is also a student communications assistant in the MU Office of Undergraduate Studies and she was formerly a Missourian reporter in the fall of 2011.

Every day University of Missouri students can be seen making a difference on campus and in the Columbia community. Through the Civic Leaders Internship Program (CLIP), Mizzou students are taking part in the issues affecting the state of Missouri.   

Students in CLIP intern with elected officials in the Missouri Senate, the Missouri House of Representatives or a state agency, all while learning about state government and public service. Participants receive academic credit for interning and often take “State Government and Leadership,” a political science course through the Honors College.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors from any major can become interns and can work full time or part time in the CLIP program. Students first go through a matching process and are then placed in positions most relevant to their major or professional aspirations.

Junior Brett Nardoni, an economics and political science double major, spends approximately 16 hours per week at the Capitol in Jefferson City. Working part time with Sen. Mike Kehoe, Nardoni’s responsibilities include helping Sen. Kehoe address constituents’ concerns by answering their phone calls and letters. His time with the program has given him a new perspective on how state governments function.

“Before I had the experience, government wasn’t quite as real to me,” Nardoni said. “Actually working in a government office for a senator, you can see how everything works. Seeing firsthand how a bill becomes a law makes it a lot more real than learning about it in a classroom.”

Matthew Behnke, a senior in business administration at MU, works with Sen. Joseph Keaveny. As a full-time intern, Behnke works about 30 to 35 hours each week at the state Capitol. Most of his time is spent responding to constituent concerns, but he also attends committee hearings and researches issues for Sen. Keaveny.

“Being here definitely makes you want to make a difference,” Behnke said. “What we do here actually impacts your life and other people’s lives.”

The CLIP program allows students to learn both independently and as part of a group, said Danielle Kasper, a sophomore majoring in political science. Kasper works as a part-time intern with Rep. Myron Neth.

“The thing I like best about the program is that besides the class we have every other week, it is completely independent,” Kasper said. “It lets you really see how politics works, especially because most of us are up there several days a week. It keeps us involved.”

CLIP interns aren’t limited to working with state legislators. Some also participate in state agencies and projects that affect Missouri, including the Missouri Department of Economic Development, the Missouri Office of Child Advocate, the Oral Veteran’s History Project and Missouri KidsFirst.

Senior business administration major Jerica Holt has worked with Missouri’s Oral Veteran’s History Project part time since the beginning of the 2013 spring semester. As part of her internship, Holt helps interview veterans, keeps in contact with other project sites and represents the organization at promotional functions.

Holt said that working with the project has made her better understand how important remembering Missouri’s history is for the present and the future.

“The most impactful records of any history are personal accounts of people experiencing it or being impacted by it in some way. That includes these veterans' stories,” Holt said. “What better way to understand what, exactly, it was like to be a woman in the Navy during World War II?”

The Civic Leaders Internship Program, established in 1999, has had 732 Mizzou students participate in it throughout its 14-year history.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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