Today@Sam Article

Heritage Magazine: A Capitol Idea For Student Success

July 10, 2024
SHSU Media Contact: Campbell Atkins


Bearkat graduate Ashlyn Parker took advantage of the unique opportunities provided through Sam Houston State University’s Center for Law, Engagement and Politics (LEAP) to explore multiple facets of government. The public health major, who participated in the 2023 Sam Houston Austin Internship Program (SHAIP) from January to May, then spent her summer in our nation’s capital with The Normandy Group, a governmental relations firm.

“These internships provided me with transferable skills and a professional network you cannot obtain from just sitting in a classroom,” Parker said. “I started out the year working in the state legislature, so it was cool to then explore the federal level while also seeing the lobbying side of things. It has definitely made me consider a career as a lobbyist. It has given me a lot of different perspectives on how the world works.”

Parker is the first SHSU student, and first student in the Texas State University System (TSUS), to intern at the firm. Normandy lobbies for the best interests of TSUS, one of their biggest clients. 

“They were looking forward to having someone from the system to give that viewpoint,” Parker said. “I got to sit in a lot of meetings with CEOs, politicians and upper-level individuals who I would never have gotten to meet otherwise.”

Much of her work has been spent in agriculture-related areas with clients such as Taylor Farms and USA Rice. Being a public health major, Parker has aspirations of going into health law or policy but has developed a strong interest in politics through her experiences.

“I have focused on public health academically and politics as an extracurricular study to give me those differing perspectives,” Parker said. “I worked closely with John Goldberg, who worked on the House Ag Committee for over 20 years and has been a great mentor to me.”

During her stint in the SHAIP program last year, she worked as a legislative aide to Texas Representative J.M. Lozano. The Austin internship is available to SHSU students of all majors and places participants in various legislative offices to work full time during the five-month session. Accepted students earn academic credit for their work and gain real world experience in an array of areas.

“I wore many hats in Austin, too,” Parker said. “I was a scheduler and legislative correspondent as well as a friendly face for visitors.”

Parker acknowledged the impact SHSU has had in setting her up for success, particularly the LEAP Center.

“I attribute everything to the LEAP Center at Sam along with the program’s director and my mentor, Mike Yawn,” Parker said. “He is the one who has pushed me in this direction and provided me with opportunities. He has invited me to a lot of professional events where I got to gain experience and learn how to interact in the real world.”


The LEAP Center coordinates the Austin Internship Program, oversees internships with the political science department and the City Fellows program. Yawn has worked as a consultant for a state legislature, state executive branch and numerous political campaigns. He has taught and advised at SHSU since 2001 and his research has been published in numerous notable journals and books.

“The LEAP Center is multidisciplinary,” Yawn said. “We’re interested in teaching students about all the disciplines that we’re qualified to in order to provide some sort of exposure. Ashlyn, for example, has been exposed to internships. We, of course, hope she gets a deeper interest in her major, but we also want to expose her to important people.”

Along with learning the ins and outs of general professionalism, Parker attended a speech delivered by physician and diplomat Deborah Birx through the program, who served as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator under former President Donald Trump from 2020-2021.

“One of the many things that is great about Ashlyn is that she is open to new opportunities,” Yawn said. “We took her to the Texas Tribune Festival and she got a chance to meet with dozens of leading figures in the state and nation. She was already getting interested in public affairs, and that’s important. She is aware that almost every discipline interacts with politics and government in some way. So much of what impacts public health has to do with the government.” 

Parker also singled out SHSU’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and Associate Provost Chad Hargrave for landing her the opportunity.

While Parker feels fortunate to have a career trajectory in mind during her senior year at SHSU, she remains open to any professional possibilities that present themselves.

“I would love to go into health law and maybe become a public health attorney but, to be honest, I’m taking opportunities as they come and seeing where they lead me,” Parker said.

The opportunities have recently led her to apply to health policy graduate schools, a concept she became interested in during her internships. She also attended the 36th Annual Texas Health Law Conference in October to further advance her professional aspirations.

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