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Junior Fellows Put Politics Into Practice

Oct. 28, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt, Tara Lestarjette

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In addition to their philanthropic efforts, the Political Science Junior Fellows travel extensively throughout the year, visiting historical and cultural sites across the country on their way to conferences. In 2009, the group travelled to Washington, D.C., for President Barack Obama's inauguration and visited sites in the nation's capital They also meet with political figures such as Mitt Romney (below). —All photos are submitted.


Junior Fellows with Mitt RomneyBy serving the local community, visiting numerous historic sites across the nation, and meeting influential individuals, membership in the Sam Houston State University Junior Fellows not only shapes a student’s collegiate career, but lengthens the reach of his or her career possibilities.

The Political Science Junior Fellows organization is committed to promoting education, public service and professionalism by implementing classroom lessons with hands-on learning experiences that are both beneficial and enjoyable. This experience helps students’ transition from college to a career after graduation, according to Mike Yawn, political science professor and junior fellows adviser.

The organization achieves these goals through events in which students can participate. The members attend presentations by leading public figures, travel and work with the community, and host such events as the Cary Grant Film Festival. Students volunteer on a weekly basis as well as assist with numerous educational seminars.

“I feel like I have had opportunities that are not common to college students,” said former president Daniel North, who was recently hired as the finance assistant for Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) reelection campaign. “The organization helps you explore academic, career, and life options, and then helps you acquire the skills to pursue those options. It definitely helped me.”

Students have met with former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell; former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; actor Alan Alda; physicist Stephen Hawking; authors Jeff Lindsay and Douglas Brinkley; and singer Tony Bennett, to name a few.

“In the past two years, members have attended more than 60 presentations by leading public officials,” Yawn said. “However, the lectures go beyond their political science field, exposing them to other areas of importance such as art, history, civil rights, and literature.

“Learning about these diverse topics gives members a broad perspective of society that will be beneficial as the students pursue a career.”

One of North’s most memorable experiences in the Political Science Junior Fellows is a trip they took in the spring of 2010 to Little Rock, Ark., and Memphis, Tenn., he said.

During the trip, members explored Little Rock Central High; the Lorraine Hotel, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination; the National Civil Rights Museum; the Bill Clinton Presidential Library; the Old Mill, where the last surviving set of “Gone With the Wind” is located; the Little Rock Museum of Fine Arts; Beale Street; Graceland; and Sun Record Studios. They also attended an academic conference while there, building their resumes and their understanding of research.

“I think the trip typifies the fun and the broad-based learning that the students can have in the organization—learning not just about politics, but about civil rights, music, art, history, and even motion pictures,” North said. “It was a fun and educational experience.”

For four years now, the Junior Fellows have pitted Democrats against Republicans for a charity football game that benefits Huntsville's YMCA and the John Holcombe Scholarship Fund at SHSU.

But the benefits are also local. Senior Robert Loughran said one of the many advantages of being involved is gaining a community within the organization and developing relationships in Huntsville by serving the city.

“I really enjoy working with our citizenship program, where the Junior Fellows help tutor about 20 immigrants on the civics portion of the citizenship exam,” he said.

“It’s another way to serve, and a great way to learn,” said Junior Fellows officer Christian Bionat, who also serves on the Friends of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum Board. “The people are very nice, and they’ve taught me a lot. It’s a real privilege to help while learning.”

The organization also has shaped the lives of many alumni.

“Our graduates have done very well for themselves,” Yawn said. “We have alumni on Capitol Hill in D.C. and Austin, on campaigns at the state and national level, in high-ranking positions in the federal bureaucracy, and in some of the best law schools and graduate schools in the country.”

For former president Emily Johnson, the organization helped her explore various career options.

“At first, I thought I wanted to go to law school,” Johnson said. “I was able to do an internship with a legal agency—which I loved—but it also prompted me to look for another profession. With the Junior Fellows I was able to explore other careers, eventually deciding on a career in government.”

Today, Johnson works as a policy analyst for the Texas Legislature’s Sunset Commission.

The organization has been recognized during the Sammy Awards as the “Outstanding Academic and Honorary Organization” for the past five years. They were also named the “Outstanding Overall Organization” in 2010 and have been named “Outstanding Service Group” by the Huntsville-Walker County Chamber of Commerce.

To gain membership, students should have at least a 3.0 grade point average, be a political science major or minor, and have “strong character and reliability.”

“The formal requirements aren’t particularly restrictive,” Bionat said. “It’s more a question of being goal oriented and dedicated.”

“Currently there are five members; the size of the group tends to regulate itself,” said Yawn. “Interested students are encouraged to attend events, and those who are truly committed to making a difference and gaining opportunities stick with it.”

Bionat said sticking with it has made a difference.

“I don’t think I would get these experiences at any other university. The students, the faculty, and the community have all been very supportive,” he said. “Sam Houston is a great place to be, and the Junior Fellows organization has helped me make the most of it.”

The Political Science Junior Fellows frequently blog about events and experiences, often published by various news organizations, including SHSU’s news page Today@Sam. Their blog is available at politicalsciencejuniorfellows.wordpress.com.

For more information on the organization, contact Yawn at 936.294.1456 or http://www.shsu.edu/~org_psjf/.



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