State Capitol internship introduces GGC student to political process

For Georgia Gwinnett College senior Meiling Lamquach-Holt, an internship at Georgia’s Capitol has added a real-world dimension to her textbook understanding of political science.

For Georgia Gwinnett College senior Meiling Lamquach-Holt, an internship at Georgia’s Capitol has added a real-world dimension to her textbook understanding of political science.  

“You can read about how it’s supposed to work, but until you see how it’s done, you don’t know how difficult it is to pass a law,” says Lamquach-Holt, who began her internship in January with Rep. Carl Rogers, Chair of the House Higher Education Committee, and Rep. Chuck Martin, Chair of the House Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee. “There’s a lot of work involved.”

The Political Science Practicum program matches GGC students with internship experiences that expand on classroom studies. Since its inauguration last summer, the program has matched seven students with unique experiential learning projects. Lamquach-Holt is the first intern to work at the state capitol during the legislative session. 

“As a student, Meiling has always been very knowledgeable, very well-prepared,” said Meg Keiley-Listermann, assistant professor of political science and program coordinator. “What I’ve seen since she started this internship is an explosion of self-confidence in her communication. She is just as diligent, but less reserved her communication. Her enthusiasm and mastery of the material are obvious.”

The practicum class is required of all political science majors but no two internships are alike. The unifying concept is the student’s involvement in designing a unique learning experience.

“At the beginning of the semester, we carefully establish three to five learning goals which we track throughout their internships,” Keiley-Listermann said. “We want them to have an experience that is integrated with their studies.”

Lamquach-Holt says it is hard to anticipate what to expect each day when she clocks in at her state capitol internship. Splitting her time between the offices of two very influential chairmen, she braces herself for almost anything – from taking meeting notes and running paperwork to other offices to retrieving bill summaries for her bosses.

One thing she can predict is that the phone will ring, and she will often be the first person to address a miffed constituent or a curious reporter. Lamquach-Holt has learned to be diplomatic, but she is very careful in her response.

“If someone’s upset, the first thing you need to do is calm them down so they understand they are not talking with the representative,” she said. “That can be tricky, because if you sound too sympathetic, the [caller] may think that the representative agrees with them. It’s better to take down their number so the representative can get back to them. A lot of times, by the end of the call, they are apologizing for getting so upset.”

Her experience fielding phone calls drives home a lesson that Lamquach-Holt learned at GGC:  people are passionate about politics. Lamquach-Holt now admits that when she took her first American government class with Keiley-Listermann, she did not share this perspective. But when her professor started talking about the importance of the American political system, something clicked.

“I came into that class thinking ‘I am not going to vote. I do not care about politics.’ I was a psychology major. But when Dr. Keiley-Listermann vocalized that everything we do can have an impact in the world, her enthusiasm got to me.  I began to feel like my voice, my actions do count,” said Lamquach-Holt.

Live video footage of House proceedings is piped into her office daily, giving Lamquach-Holt and other interns a front-row seat for any excitement that takes place on the House floor. Thus far, there has been very little drama, but she does recall a spirited debate that took over the chamber when members were considering a constitutional amendment on charter schools. To succeed, the bill needed a super-majority, or two-thirds vote. 

“One day, they debated from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and they couldn’t agree,” she said. “It’s interesting because the next week, they got the votes they needed and passed it.” 

Lamquach-Holt said she was surprised to see how engaged the legislators were in the minutia of each bill. Nothing in her textbooks could have prepared her for the complexity of the process.

“I used to think that lobbyists came in and laid everything out, but that is not the case. The representatives have already studied the issue before they meet with lobbyists, and they ask a lot of questions. They are always challenging the lobbyists with things they have not considered. “

Lamquach-Holt listens closely to the questions that the representatives ask, knowing that she will need to use a similarly sharp logic when she pursues her next goal: law school. She plans to graduate from Georgia Gwinnett in December 2012 and hopes to enter law school by the fall of 2013.

“You have to be careful about how you word things in a bill because the wording could lead to unintended consequences if you put it in another context. I know when I go to law school, I’ll have to do the same thing.”

A native of Seattle, Washington, Lamquach-Holt has lived in the Atlanta area since 2008, when she moved to Georgia to marry her long-distance high school sweetheart, Victor Holt. The couple reside in Auburn, Ga.

In addition to working at the Georgia Capitol Monday through Friday, she takes four classes at GGC and serves as vice president of the International Student Association and secretary for the Polis Club. She is a member of the GGC Law Society and the Asian Student Association.

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