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Students Trade Governments

 Students Trade Governments

05/20/2011 

Students often go far from home to secure an internship with the New York State Assembly.

But they don’t usually travel 3,000 miles.

Last semester, three college students from Great Britain traveled to Albany to experience the state legislature first hand as part of a unique international exchange program involving SUNY Cortland. Three Cortland students, meanwhile, spent the semester studying at Manchester Metropolitan University in Great Britain as part of the Atlantis Scholarship program.

“I am learning so much different stuff,” said Mellissa Houlding, a junior at Manchester Metropolitan who worked with, Sen. Deborah Glick, a Democrat from New York City.  “I didn’t know a lot about politics, or even about New York for that matter, but now I know more about how the government works here than I do about it works back home. There is so much information, I don’t know what to do with it.”

Houlding and two other British students spent the spring gaining experience through the New York State Assembly Internship Program.

The four-year Atlantis Mobility Project grant provides 48 students, 12 per year, with scholarships to study public administration and public policy abroad. The project brings together four institutions in a partnership. In America, they are, SUNY Cortland and SUNY Buffalo, which are supported by the U.S. Department of Education and the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE).

The European school partners, who are funded by the European Union Commission in Brussels, are Manchester Metropolitan University in Great Britain and Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj, Romania.

As part of the Atlantis grant agreement, three SUNY Cortland students: Grace Mellen, Andrea Forward and William Jamal Scott, studied abroad last semester. They took public services courses at Manchester Metropolitan University and hoped to find an internship or an overseas working opportunity for the summer.

 “I’m already learning so much about how the British welfare system works,” said Mellen, a senior political science major. “With the coalition government in place, I get to hear all about their proposed changes with the big society. I am also taking British law classes which are very interesting because they do not have written constitution, like we do.”

Melissa Houlding and Deborah Glick

Melissa Houlding, at right, worked as an intern for
New 
York State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, left,
through 
the Atlantis Scholarship program.

The Atlantis grant enables European and American students preparing for careers in public service with an opportunity to study in subject areas that will strengthen their ability to work effectively in transatlantic public administration.

 “It has been a life-changing experience, “said Michelle Boylett, a sophomore at Manchester Metropolitan who worked for Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, a Democrat representing Great Neck, N.Y. “In today’s world you need a degree, but you need experience more … It is a good stepping stone to living on your own and maturing as a person.”

The internship offers college students a chance to participate in state government and the legislative process. The Assembly Intern Committee awards a $4,140 stipend to each intern to help cover some of the expenses.

“We use this money to pay rent and bills,” said John Singh-Green, a student from Manchester Metropolitan who worked with Ron Canestrari, the Assembly’s Democratic majority leader, from Cohoes, N.Y.  “Whatever is leftover we use for food. Most of our other expenses – like having a good time and exploring the country – are out of pocket.”

The assembly offers this opportunity to 150 college students, encouraging them to get involved in state government and gain a firsthand knowledge of the legislative process.

In order to be eligible for the internship, applicants must be juniors or seniors matriculated in a public service college degree program. The interns are expected to spend a minimum of 30 hours at the capital each week and must keep up with assembly assignments.

Interns are assigned to the offices of assembly members, and assume a variety of responsibilities. The academic course is designed to complement the internship experience in the Assembly offices. The Interns are assigned required readings and their progress is monitored.

“Academics are a lot harder in America,” Boylett said. “There is a lot more reading then we get back in England. The papers students have to write here are a lot longer than the ones we have write back home. I have never had to write more than 10 pages for an assignment before.”

Each intern has a hectic course load and must attend numerous orientations, issues forums and mock sessions that represent a culmination of the learning experience. The opportunity is designed to explore how politics influences policy in New York state legislative processes. The interns have been working on bills that involve issues like animal rights, financial aid, budget cuts and same-sex marriage.

“One of the best parts about working in the assembly is being a part of something important,” Houlding said. “It’s a great learning opportunity where you get to fight for issues bigger then yourself that you can believe in.”