Evergreen’s Legislative Interns

Evergreen’s proximity to the Washington State Capitol Campus may be one reason it’s the most represented college of its size, with 14 student enrolled in the 2016-17 school year, interning with legislators from around the state.

But students, faculty, and legislators involved in Evergreen’s legislative internship program say it’s the critical thinking and negotiating skills developed at Evergreen that make students a natural fit for legislative policy and procedure.

BreAnn Sherrill in the Senate chamber

BreAnn Sherrill in the Senate chamber. She interned for Republican Sen. Ann Rivers, who represents parts of Clark County in Southwest Washington.

“Legislature is an arena for interdisciplinary learning in action,” says faculty sponsor Kathy Kelly. “At Evergreen, we don’t get siloed. We are familiar with complexity and uncertainty in dynamic situations.”

Renewed spirit of bipartisanship

One student, BreAnn Sherrill ’17, interned with Republican Sen. Ann Rivers, who represents parts of Clark County in Southwest Washington. Working over the course of two legislative sessions, Sherrill says she was grateful for the Legislature’s partnership with Evergreen, stating the program boosted her confidence.

“There’s an energy there that’s really inspiring,” Sherrill says. “The Legislature itself is a lot more accessible than I thought, so I was more comfortable tracking bills every day, sitting in on public hearings, and an executive session. I did research on issues, updated talking points for the senator, and handled meetings with constituents and lobbyists.”

The program also includes group projects, which involve proposing, crafting, debating, and voting on mock legislation. This work, combined with the daily tasks interns carry out for legislators, add up to 15 weeks of real-world civics education.

Evergreen's legislative internship program

Students work on mock legislation as part of 15 weeks of real-world civics education offered by Evergreen’s legislative internship program.

“We must not only learn across differences, like Evergreen students do, but also work across them,” says Sen. Rivers. “For those reasons I have to believe Evergreen interns get here and think, ‘Hey, this process seems more familiar than I expected.’”

In addition to the personal growth she experienced, Sherrill says she was impressed with the legislators’ ability to ‘work across the aisle.’

“I was really amazed at the bipartisanship,” she says. “For every one bill that’s deeply divided, there are 10 more in motion with a lot more collaboration and cooperation. I was grateful to see the human side of elected officials, especially with the political climate we’re in.”

Sen. Rivers agrees. “Legislators are different in many ways—we come from different places, we have different life experiences, we have different policy interests—and that’s before you get to the differences in political philosophies,” she says.

Student success in action

Another student, Merrill Williams ’17, was an intern from Evergreen’s Tacoma Program. As an intern for Democratic Sen. Bob Hasegawa, who represents Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, Williams balanced a packed itinerary. She represented the legislator in committee meetings, managed constituent relations on behalf of the senator, crafted reflective papers for her Evergreen coursework, and more.

Williams began her Evergreen education with support from the David L. Hitchens Scholarship, offered to first-generation students who are studying humanities, social sciences, or arts. Hitchens, an Evergreen founder, and his spouse Joan Hitchens ’82, created the scholarship to honor his mother, who instilled in him a passion for lifelong learning. Williams later received the Jacinta McKoy Scholarship, created in memory of McKoy’s contributions to Evergreen’s performing and media arts, and offered to sophomores who demonstrate interest in pursuing community-based service and social change.

Merrill Williams at Washington State Capitol

Merrill Williams at the Washington State Capitol, where she was an intern for Democratic Sen. Bob Hasegawa, who represents Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.

“The courses I took gave me insight on how things may be presented singly, but are connected to areas and issues under the surface,” reflects Williams. “I used research techniques that placed my biases to the side. I worked well with others, knowing that everyone had different strengths to accomplish the tasks that were asked of us.”

Williams also had the opportunity to present her research project, on police and using excessive force, at conferences hosted by the Society for Applied Anthropology in Vancouver, Canada and Kentucky’s Berea College.

"It boosted my confidence to understand I belong in places where you do not often see many black women," she says, "and that my work and voice are just as important as the next person."

Evergreen’s internship program with the Washington Legislature continues to support graduates who are ready to lead in their fields, who are informed about the inner workings of government, and who are ready for the future.

“I’ve had more Evergreen students as interns than students from other colleges,” says Sen. Rivers. “Maybe it’s coincidence, but when I look at the applications of the prospective interns, Evergreen students certainly seem to be right around the top of the list.”