Each week, 18 University of Richmond students wake up, put on black suit coats and close-toed shoes, sit in rush hour traffic and push through the revolving doors of the General Assembly Building.
Instead of money, these juniors and seniors are earning six credits for the 20 hours per week that they spend working for the Virginia General Assembly through the university's oldest internship program, Political Science 395: State Legislative Internship.
The course, which has been offered since the 1970s, is divided into two sections. For the first eight weeks, students intern downtown with a consulting firm, legislator or state agency, and after spring break, they convene in a classroom each week to discuss what they have taken from their experiences.
"What always impresses me is the learning curve," course supervisor John Whelan said. "By the end of eight weeks, they're pretty knowledgeable on a range of issues."
Senior Shauna Hart, whose internship is with the Virginia Department of Mental Health and Retardation, said the course is offered exclusively during the spring semester because the General Assembly is only in session from January to February for 30 or 60 days, depending on the year.
"The whole Capitol comes alive during this time," Whelan said. "It's operating all year long, but this is the time that every single night and every single morning there is a social affair."
The daily responsibilities vary depending on the internship, but generally the students are expected to attend committee meetings, research bills, shadow lobbyists and do constituent services, said senior Carter Keeny, an intern with Spotts Fain Consulting.
Students occasionally see each other in the building and at meetings, but everyone works with a different supervisor to get a different experience, said senior Whitney Koch, an intern with McGuire Woods Consulting.
"I was surprised how many people there are from either University of Richmond undergrad or went to T.C. Williams," Keeny said. "There is a strong connection to the school."
In the past, the program has directly led to job opportunities in Virginia politics, Whelan said.
Several Richmond alumni have participated in the course, including Kirk Jonas, the interim associate provost, who completed the program in 1971.
"I had a bird's eye view of this important era in Virginia state government," Jonas said. "The experience had a major impact on my life."
Although most of the students who take the elective are political science majors, the only prerequisite is the Introduction to American Government course. There is also an application process during the fall, which involves submitting a resume and transcript, writing a letter expressing interest and interviewing with potential supervisors.
"We have developed such a positive relationship and standing down there that I get more inquiries than I can satisfy," Whelan said.
The program offers students a nice bridge between college and the real world, Keeny said.
"I have my own office," he said. "There's no nameplate, but I do have a rather large window"