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Student advocate wins plum Albany internship

SUNY Cortland sophomore Kaylee Evans will spend her spring semester working in Albany to influence state lawmakers after being selected for a highly competitive internship with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), the largest student-directed nonpartisan nonprofit in the state.

Until the end of New York’s legislative session in late May, the political science major from Baldwinsville, N.Y., will serve as one of only five Donald K. Ross Future Leaders Program interns.

“There has not been a Cortland student chosen for this internship in at least five years, perhaps much longer,” said Marissa Pappas, project coordinator for NYPIRG at SUNY Cortland, about the prestigious and competitive internship opportunity.


Kaylee Evans staffs an information table in front of Corey Union. Above, she attends a Climate March in New York City, which drew 75,000 people. 

Evans will research, track and promote legislation in such diverse areas of public policy as consumer protection, public campaign finance, higher education, health care and environmental preservation. She’ll network with student leaders and organize policy briefings with legislators. She also will gain an intimate understanding of legislative processes and practical experience in public speaking, writing and working with the media.

“During my internship in Albany this spring, I hope to gain a better understanding of the complexities and nuances of governing and policymaking in New York state and to make substantial and measurable progress toward policy change and improvement in NYPIRG’s issue areas,” Evans said.

Recently re-named the Ross Future Leaders Program after the organization’s founder, NYPIRG’s more than 20-year-old internship program will enable Evans to thoroughly study a particular public policy issue by pairing her with an experienced public policy mentor.

“I also hope to secure lasting connections with the NYPIRG team in Albany and my fellow interns as I embark on this new chapter of my career,” she said.

Evans, who plans to graduate early — in Fall 2025 — is among the youngest students accepted into the Albany program, Pappas said. She stands out for becoming politically active in her teens and for completing several internships before her junior year.

“Her participation in government and activism did not start with NYPIRG,” Pappas said. “However, joining her chapter of NYPIRG at SUNY Cortland has exponentially expanded her access to activism opportunities in Cortland and all over New York state.”

Evans, who aspires to become a New York state senator or assemblyperson, was influenced early by her mother Tiffany Evans, a single parent who divorced when Evans was 10 and her sister was an infant.

“Since then, she’s stopped renting, bought her own house and got her own job that she loves," Evans said of her mother. "I’m really proud of her for being able to put her life together the way that she wants it after that happened. Because that was a really hard time for all of us. She had a new baby and was between post-partum depression and the divorce. She reminds me to keep going.”

As a high school senior, Evans served as the student representative on the Baldwinsville School District’s board of education.

“At the meetings, there were people protesting about vaccines, about books,” Evans said. “It was cool to be able to have those people come speak and be able to talk back. That is what really kickstarted my interest in activism.”

Soon, Evans was helping her boyfriend’s father, Wayne Davison, run successfully for the school board.

The summer before senior year, Evans helped organize a new club in Baldwinsville’s Baker High School, Acceptance Coalition, which offered students a safe space to talk about sensitive issues and hold an annual Pride Walk.

In March 2022, in her first year at SUNY Cortland, she participated in the Somos El Futuro Model Senate in Albany, a project founded at the request of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force as a collaborative effort of the City University of New York (CUNY), the Edward T. Rogowsky CUNY Internship Program, and SUNY. She debated the Equal Rights Act with students statewide and met state legislators face to face for the first time at the Somos Gala.

“That was probably my favorite trip since I’ve come to campus,” Evans said. “We were assigned different districts of New York state and then we had to represent a district. We were assigned the opposite political belief of what we had and had to argue that belief. We also debated the Equal Rights Act and then voted on it. And it did pass.”

That year, she also took part in NYPIRG’s voter registration drive.

Kaylee Evans gazes over the New York State Senate Chamber.

“Honestly, it’s a really interesting thing because it’s nonpartisan,” Evans said. “You get asked questions until you can become confident that you know the answers.”

Under her leadership, the drive registered 777 students to vote this fall. This coming major election year, Evans hopes to exceed that success by registering 1,000 new voters.

Evans serves as a Cortland NYPIRG chapter member, traveling to Albany and New York City for events such as Higher Education Action Day and the March to End Fossil Fuels. In April 2023, she was elected by the student body to serve on the Cortland chapter’s board of directors.

“At a time where many students feel as though positive social change is impossible, NYPIRG students like Kaylee work to empower young people,” Pappas said.

“I intend to stick with NYPIRG as long as possible,” Evans said. “I’ll apply for a paid canvasser position for the summer. Then next fall, I’ll intern on campus for credit. Eventually, I could become a project coordinator on a public or private campus.”

Most recently, Evans served as an intern with Mayor Hal McCabe of Homer, N.Y. She also assisted the Cannabis Association of New York, working with specialists from around the state to understand state cannabis policy and the obstacles currently affecting New York’s fledgling cannabis industry.

“I love New York state, and when deciding what you want to do in school, especially when starting a political career, this is a great place to be,” Evans said. “There are a lot of activist opportunities that people don’t get in other parts of the country.”