In April, New College concluded its first “Semester in Tallahassee,” where students interned in various positions in Florida’s capital while taking classes at FSU and a New College seminar.
Students wrote weekly about their experiences on the job and on and off campus. Below are some snapshots from the semester:
Dylan Pryor, a reporter intern with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, on the Tallahassee politics learning curve:
As a political science AOC in Florida’s Capitol, there are two things that pretty much take precedence over everything else: networking, and a suit.
Seriously, if you’re going to get to the top, you’ll have to wear a suit. I met House Minority Leader Mark Pafford last Tuesday when Professor Keith Fitzgerald took us to the House Minority Office, and he jokingly told me the buttonup and slacks I was wearing wouldn’t cut it in the Capitol.
To be fair, I only ditched the suit because I had just come back from a long work day and it felt kind of stuffy, but the point remains. If I meet anyone important or do anything professional whatsoever, I have to suit up.
The day after that, my roommates and I met a pretty sizeable group of New College alums at a local restaurant, Midtown Caboose. Since this was right after work, I ended up biking there in my suit. It didn’t help that the route there was almost entirely hills, but I managed.
Jessica Brown, an intern with the Florida League of Women Voters, would probably agree that biking has some advantages:
Driving and driving and driving, and getting absolutely nowhere. Relaxing road trip strategy? Possibly. A good way to get to class? Absolutely not.
I left one morning at 11 a.m. for a 12:30 p.m. class. I got to class at 1 p.m. Parking at FSU is a nightmare, and I’m not the only commuter who is (already, after two weeks) pulling my hair out over it. There are cars lining roads marked “TOW ZONE,” tickets being given out left and right, even cars with their emergency lights flashing just sitting in the middle of the road. It’s fairly safe to call the parking system chaotic, anarchal. There are at least 10 cars in each parking lot circling and circling, begging for spots. I spent an hour and a half driving around the entire campus, searching for a spot.
Not wanting to get a ticket, because to be honest it would quite literally break my bank, I couldn’t do any tricky maneuvering. After having what was probably an actual emotional breakdown, I finally found a spot 30 minutes away (at 12:30, the time my class started) and walked.
Dylan appreciated the opportunities to meet with NCF graduates:
Meeting alums is a hugely important aspect of the Tallahassee program. A recent article named New College as one of twentyfive schools with the most helpful alum network, and it really shows whenever we meet the Tallahassee alums for lunch or dinner. The get-togethers are organized by Susan “Spozy” Sapoznikoff and provide a welcome distraction from my academics and interning while I’m here. It’s also an amazing opportunity to network with professionals in a variety of different fields.
By speaking to many former students that have already been through the NCF experience, I have benefitted much from their stories and advice. It has been very interesting to compare notes on how New College is versus how it used to be, or to hear how New College helped many of them create meaningful and successful professional lives.
Hearing so many success stories has boosted my confidence as I approach life after college next year, and while I still have a lot to learn, I like to think my own experiences both at New College and in Tallahassee have prepared me pretty well for my next adventures.
Jessica, on the differences between NCF and FSU classes:
One of the things that I love about New College academic life is the value that is so often and almost universally placed upon discussion in the classroom. Some courses I have taken revolve solely around discussion as a general format, but even the lecture-style courses I have taken have placed value upon the student voice and its ability to shape the conversation, contribute to the dynamic, and heighten learning potential. This has led to some of the most fulfilling and engaging moments of my life as a student, a knowledge-seeker, and an academic.
One of the things that I have learned at FSU is that not every student is given this opportunity; not by a long shot. It is far more novel than I realized, and I have a new-found appreciation for the way in which I am allowed to learn at NCF.
Olivia Van Housen, an intern at the Sierra Club, learned about life in the policy trenches:
My final week of session was spent mostly at a desk in the Strozier Library reading. I know, it was exciting as it sounded.
I read through at least 250 amendments, and was able to catch a few very important sneaky things that slipped in. At the end of session, because it gets so hectic because everyone is trying to get bills passed, amendments are abundant. And since everyone is absorbed in their own work, no one has time to read every single word that flies through the Capitol. The 120-page amendments are the worst. I know. Because I read them.
End of session is the perfect opportunity to sneak in a few “ors” and change a few words around so someone benefits. It’s likely that if you tweak one word no one will notice until it’s too late. So, naturally, I got the job of reading every word to try and catch any trickery that could potentially impact the environment.
It wasn’t easy to read through amendments on bills that deal with abortion and education without being able to do anything to prevent the horror that comes in their wake.
This internship has given me the chance to see into the entire state legislative process. I got to be present for major events that I didn’t even know existed before January. I didn’t realize that there could be public testimonies in committee meetings, and I didn’t understand what lobbyists did until now.
Jessica’s major project was event planning, for the League of Women Voters’ major biennial lobbying event:
We planned for our Legislative Summit for quite a while. Because I was spending 15 hours a week in the office, I’ve gotten to do quite a lot to aid in this preparation. I heard about the event when I first got introduced to the office and it’s taken a lot of work to get to the finish line.
Members of local leagues from all over the state travel to Tallahassee for three days to participate and learn about our state government and lobby for issues that the league targets. These women are incredibly amazing and more informed about state issues (and political issues in general) than a lot of people that I’ve met.
On the first day of the summit, I got to know the other volunteers and some of our members. Janet Findling, who sat passing out folders next to me, talked to me about philosophy, her family, and school. (It is actually a huge relief to say “I’m a philosophy major” and not be met with some variation of a groan, but genuine interest).
Later I was able to head off into the banquet to eat, chat and listen to the speakers for the evening. LWVF President Pamela Goodman introduced guests including Tallahassee’s mayor, Andrew Gillum, and a presentation on Florida’s parks by Jim Stevenson. Tables across the banquet floor were marked by interest group for different topics that the League takes to heart, such as gun control, land and water, health care, election ethics and more. I sat at a table for those discussing bills in relation to healthcare and got to meet some great women.
The second day was the most eventful. Starting at 7:30 a.m., members began meeting with legislators, listening to presentations on certain key bills, and taking some needed coffee breaks. A while after I arrived to hear a few presentations, we were preparing for the press release on education/charter school bills that the league opposes.
We moved to the last event of the evening, the Gala. I was extremely excited about this: not only would I be in the same room as a lot of locally influential people, but I put a lot of work into the event. I did the graphic design for the program for the event and the insert, as well as the graphic design for the awards given out to the speakers for the evening. I got to see the hard work of everyone involved in this come completely together for a beautiful gala.
While I worked the registration table during the cocktails and hors d’oeurves, color guard, and Pamela Goodman’s opener, I did get to see our award recipients speak. Senator Jeff Clemens, Representative Dave Kerner, Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, and Mary Ellen Klas all received our “Making Democracy Work” award. Each of these individuals has done work within their range of influence to aid in opposing harmful bills such as NRA-¬backed open carry bills, or done notable work in the media (specifically, Mary Ellen Klas).
After closing remarks we started cleaning up and heading home with a feeling of accomplishment… and exhaustion. All in all, I had a lot of fun, I met some amazing and important people, and I got to learn more about event organization.
Dylan was able to see politicians come together and succeed on an important issue:
While I was always interested in our government, I have to admit that my Political Science AOC was ultimately both a choice as well as something that I fell into.
However, I believe there is a fundamental issue with how many people view politics in America and abroad. When I watch lawmakers meet for session at my internship, I hear much talk about policy and why it’s important, but outside of the legislature, it is clear many politicians are unable to communicate with each other without focusing on their key differences.
I understand that differing stances are a fact of politics, but I also value the component of political science where various parties cooperate in order to better understand each other and possibly reach a compromise. It is as if most lawmakers must revert to their frequently shared background as attorneys at war in the courtroom, so at this point, I doubt compromise is even in the vocabulary of most state and national lawmakers, but I digress.
I will say that looking back on this week, Florida lawmakers were actually on the same page. And the result was outstanding. Senate Bill 636 was unanimously passed in both the House and the Senate. Sponsored by Sen. Benacquisto and supported by such leaders as Sen. Negron, the bill aimed to require the submission and testing of all incoming sexual assault kits, as well as clear the current backlog of more than 13,000 kits.
The bill had a pretty smooth road from its introduction in January to its passage this week, with the only bump (if you can call it that) being Sen. Negron’s hesitance to outsource kits due to his desire to ensure testing kept up with Florida Department of Law Enforcement standards. Even then, other bill supporters such as Attorney General Pam Bondi worked tirelessly with him to make sure his concerns were addressed and alleviated.
As a friend of mine commented, “Just when you begin to lose faith, Florida does something to surprise you in the best possible way.” Lawmakers communicated with each other, despite policy stances or party, and it showed.