Many University of Richmond students spent the first six weeks of the semester interning at the Virginia General Assembly, making connections and gaining political experience that may help them along their career paths.
The first step for the interns was enrolling in a two-unit legislative internship class with professor Daniel Palazzolo, said senior intern Ben Paul.
Palazzolo then matched each student with a delegate or senator who shared his or her interests and political beliefs, Paul said.
The interns worked 20 hours each week doing administrative tasks, attending receptions and keeping track of the bills being passed.
"There's a lot of grunt work you have to do," said senior intern Nicole Prunetti. "So sometimes it's hard to feel like what you did is in anyway important, but when you step back, you realize that it is."
Unlike most of the interns who were studying political science, Prunetti is an English major with a law and liberal arts minor with hopes to attend law school next year.
Prunetti interned for Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, but worked directly under the senator's legislative aide, she said. Her main responsibilities included sitting in on committee meetings, answering telephones and answering constituents' e-mails.
But responsibilities tended to vary depending on the specific senator or delegate the intern worked for, said sophomore Sarah Huang, who previously worked as a page doing clerical work that helped her get an early understanding of the Assembly's inner workings.
Huang's internship experience was different from the other interns because she worked under Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who doubles as the Chief Job Creation Officer on Gov. Robert McDonnell's cabinet. Huang didn't have the consistent routine other interns usually had, she said, because Bolling had to balance his legislative and executive duties.
Paul said the best part of the internship was that they all got to experience the world of poltics beyond the borders of the classroom.
"You can't really learn about any of it unless you're in the trenches," he said.
Prunetti agreed that getting a first-hand understanding of politics was a definite perk of the job.
"There's a general misconception among the populace in America about how things get done," she said. "Witnessing what's going on on a daily basis gives you a new appreciation for how the government is run."
Interns also discovered that politicians had a sense of humor, said senior Brett Segal, who worked for Sen. Ryan McDougle.
"You get to see them behind the scenes," he said. "They goof around just like everyone else. They throw popcorn at each other."
Segal said McDougle was down-to-earth and spoke to him as an equal.
"When I disagree with certain things, I can ask him freely about it and he'll give me his constitutional opinion and his own moral opinion," he said. "So I really enjoy when I can actually have discourse with him."
Another benefit the internship provided was the opportunity to get off campus and into the city of Richmond, Prunetti said.
Still, the intern positions came with a few challenges, such as waking up early to begin an eight-hour workday, Paul said. But for Huang, the early hours were worth the experience.
"I'm more excited to be downtown at 8:30 a.m. than wake up for a 9 a.m. class every day," she said. "It's a lot of work, but at the end of the day it's probably one of the best decisions I've ever made."
This hard work was what Prunetti advised future interns to keep in mind.
"Everybody gets really tempted by the idea that it's 20 hours and that's it," she said. "But there's a research project, a report, journals and readings. It's two units for a reason. There's still a lot of school work involved."
The same amount of work is also required on the job.
"Be ready for tedious work," Segal said. "Take every task, no matter how small or insignificant it seems, and put 100 percent into it. Pay attention to detail. Once they notice that, they'll give you harder tasks and it will be more rewarding for you."
Contact reporter Liz Aquilino at firstname.lastname@example.org