Today@Sam Article

Students Selected For D.C. Women In Government Program

May 12, 2017
SHSU Media Contact: Lane Fortenberry

Although women comprise 50.8 percent of the U.S. population, here’s a staggering 2015 statistic—only 19 percent of Congress and 23 percent of state legislatures are women.

However, there’s an organization dedicated to raising that percentage, and two Sam Houston State University students made history this year as a part of it.

Each year, the spring and fall semesters, seven college women across the United States are selected for the Running Start/Walmart Star Fellowship program, a nonpartisan institute that strives to enhance the representation of women in American government. 

The interns are placed in the offices of female representatives and senators to learn from the women firsthand. They live together in a house on Capitol Hill and are given a living stipend.

This year, Running Start selected two students from the same university for the first time—and the two are from SHSU.

The two selected were Megan Chapa and Jazmin Perez.

Chapa, political science major and Center for Law, Engagement and Politics ambassador, participated in the program from mid-January to mid-April.

“I feel very fortunate to have been selected for this fellowship and proud that for the first time ever, they selected two young women from any university,” she said. “I believe that speaks volumes about not only the work ethic of students at SHSU, but also the level at which our students can compete.”

The fellowship requires the students to work with a female member of Congress Monday-Thursday. On Fridays, the students participate in professional leadership trainings at the Running Start office. 

Mike Yawn, director of the LEAP Center, said Running Start is much more than just an internship.

“The concept is that if you wait until you’re in your 30s to decide to get interested in politics, you’re already a decade and a half behind the people who are running,” he said. “The idea is to get involved when you’re 18 to 24 and provide the ways to make inroads. 

“Then you start to meet the people that you need to meet, you start to gain the experience to get the next jobs you need, and then by the time you’re in your 30s, you’re poised to run,” he said. “We’re not going to wait until you’re 30 at a standing start and decide to catch up with everybody else who is already running.”

Chapa worked in Congresswoman Martha Roby’s office, who represents the second district of Alabama and sits on the Judiciary and Appropriations House committees.

Students Selected For D.C. Women In Government Program

“My job responsibilities varied each day, but I primarily worked with constituents,” she said. “Other tasks I managed day-to-day included giving Capitol tours, attending policy briefings, assisting our communications director with Roby’s interviews, and writing up appropriations memos.

“The office always strived to engage me in meaningful and diverse work and I believe that is what made my experience so great,” she said. “They also allowed me to take time off to explore my other interests in government, for example, going to the then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch’s hearings and oral arguments before the Supreme Court. These are the once-in-a-lifetime events I got to experience firsthand, and I am very grateful.”

The fact that two of the seven students were selected from SHSU shows that the university’s students can compete with anyone else in the country, according to Yawn.

“It shows that these students aren’t just a top talent in Texas—it means that they’re competing nationally,” he said. “The university puts out top students. I’m confident in saying that there are more opportunities to interact and engage with political topics here at Sam Houston than at any other university in Texas.”

Chapa believes the opportunities she had and will have in the future are direct results of the fellowship.

“Because I plan to continue my education, I was not actively looking for a job on the Hill, as many of fellow participants were,” she said. “However, having experience at any level of government is so beneficial because of the role of governments in our everyday lives. I truly believe that experience makes someone more marketable to future career prospects.”

Networking in Washington D.C. is highly important for a career in politics, according to Yawn.

“It’s important for the experience and the contacts that you can only get in Washington D.C.,” he said. “You can get some of those in Austin, but D.C. is the political capital of the nation.

“The students won’t have any better chance to gain professional experience,” he said. “D.C. is also just a great place to be with adventures of sightseeing and other things. It’s a wonderful personal experience.”

During her fellowship, Chapa was able to meet Anita McBride, former chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush, and Chris Jahnke, speech coach and media trainer who helped Secretary Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama, among others.

“When we were not in the office, we visited museums, National Parks, explored the diverse food D.C. offers and traveled,” she said. “I went to Philadelphia, New York City and Atlantic City, which were all fun.

“I believe that well-rounded people can communicate effectively with a broader range of audiences, so in my free time I tried to do things that would broaden my horizons and something I could learn from.”

Yawn said Chapa has been excellent academically and is an outstanding student.

Chapa learned many valuable lessons during her fellowship, but one in particular is the most influential. 

“You can have everything you work for; it seems elementary, but young women are often misled into making the choice of pursuing a career or having a family—especially in politics,” she said. “Martha showed me that, in fact, her family has helped shaped who she is today, and that is so inspiring.

“I know it takes hard work and great time management, but it’s possible,” she said. “I feel more empowered than ever before and this experience has reaffirmed my aspiration to run for office.” 

Chapa will continue her education this fall.  She has been accepted to South Texas College of Law and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law School, and is also considering graduate programs. Perez was hired by the Capitol office of U.S. Representative Will Hurd.

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