– By Niku Letang, Contributing Writer
A new course offered by the Political Science and Justice Studies departments allows students to participate in an internship at the State House in Trenton. Created by President Susan A. Cole and her staff, the practical course provides students with a unique understanding and perspective of New Jersey’s legislative process by taking them behind the scenes at the State House. Not only do students gain knowledge of the State’s Legislature, but they are also given a rare opportunity to observe the government in action.
A typical day in Trenton includes attending voting sessions, committee hearings, listening to testimony and political debates, meeting with Legislators, lobbyists, staff from the Department of State and other officials. On their first day at the State House, students met with staff from the Office of Legislative Services who briefed them on the process of drafting a bill.
Students also met with several Legislators including Assistant Majority Leader and Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Teresa Ruiz, Senator Michael Doherty, Deputy Speaker and Chair of the General Assembly Women and Children Committee, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, Chair of the General Assembly Higher Education Committee, Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney,
President Sweeney spoke passionately about how his daughter’s plight with Down-syndrome influenced his decision to run for political office in an effort to seek services for other children with special needs. President Sweeney also serves as the General Organizer of the International Association of Ironworkers. While noting that he did not pursue a college education, Sweeney informed students of the importance and advantages of seeking higher education. The Senate President also gave students a solid piece of advice: Despite how successful you might become, never forget where you came from.
Trips to the State House alternate with biweekly classes on campus. Students spend time discussing and analyzing some of New Jersey’s most controversial bills, laws and political and social issues. Classroom sessions on current “Hot Topics” feature visits from Legislators, lobbyists and officials from governmental agencies, which included Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen who represents New Jersey’s 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin, who represents New Jersey’s 34th Legislative District in the State General Assembly, Brendan Gill, a Freeholder representing New Jersey’s Fifth District and Little Falls Town Council hopeful, James Damiano.
The students who are currently enrolled in the course have expressed great enthusiasm about their overall experience. Chelsea Wuesthoff states that she appreciates the realistic view of state government and the hands-on experience that the internship provides. “It’s a great opportunity,” she exclaimed. Student Niku Letang employs a different perspective. “I have become very inspired by the stories and accomplishments of some of the legislators that we have met. It is also nice to know the person behind the politics. This experience completely humanizes them.” The course is taught by Professor Sal Anderton, and the internship is directed by Director of Government Relations, Shivaun Gaines. Professor Anderton’s years of experience as a lobbyist and vast knowledge of New Jersey’s Legislative process also contribute to the students’ overall experience at the State House and in the classroom. When asked about the most important thing he wants students to gain from the internship, Professor Anderton stated, “[To show] how complex state government is, but at the same time, how politics and government are personal to the people involved.”