A Capitol Campaign

Author: Cal Powell

ATLANTA – The lieutenant governor is at the well on the senate floor inside the Georgia State Capitol.

He’s saying something, but competing with a steady, low hum of several conversations going on along the walls of the great chamber and at the six rows of tables before him.

Amid this mild chaos, Janelle George is scanning the floor and hallways for senators, from whom she needs signatures for a resolution.

Resolution in one hand, the chamber’s seating chart pulled up on her smart phone in the other, George gracefully navigates the crowded floor, corralling the busy senators one by one and securing their signatures.

“I like being in a fast-paced environment,” she said.

George, a FACS student and legislative aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, definitely came to the right place.

The Georgia State Capitol during the 40-day legislative session is a frenetic, stress-inducing scene for visitors from more casual environs.

For the three students who spent the session in Atlanta as part of the FACS Legislative Aide program – looking to make connections and gain a better understanding of public policy – it is ideal.

“I haven’t had a boring day here,” said sophomore Jake Conner, a dietetics and consumer foods major who spent his semester interning in the office of State Rep. Spencer Frye.

The FACS Legislative Aide program was launched in 1983, the brainchild of then-Dean Emily Quinn Pou, and it all came about by chance, really.

Students on steps of capitol <p>Legislative aides Janelle George and Jake Conner catch up on the Capitol steps in between meetings.</p>

Legislative aides Janelle George and Jake Conner catch up on the Capitol steps in between meetings.

Georgia Rep. Bob Argo was visiting a FACS housing class when he mentioned that representatives at the time did not have offices in the Capitol and had trouble responding to constituents in a timely manner.

Pou, who was present for the lecture along with faculty member Anne Sweaney, approached Argo afterward to ask if an intern would make things more manageable.

“He said yes,” Sweaney recalled. “He said, ‘Now, I meet in the hallway, but an intern would really help me.’ Dean Pou turned to me and said ‘Do you think you could do that?’ I said, ‘Sure!’ ”

The next year, three FACS students – Esther DeVall, Robin Gary Durbin and Suzie Strickland Tippins – became the first FACS Legislative Aides, assisting the entire Athens delegation after Pou secured funding. One of the early champions of the program was faculty member Jessie Mize.

The innovative program, now in its 35th year, expanded in 1984 to offer internships in the 10th U.S. Congressional District in Washington, D.C. Since its inception, 181 FACS students have participated in the program.

The program was renamed the Glenn Wilson “Jack” Ellard Legislative Aide program in 2005 in honor of Ellard, the longtime clerk of the Georgia House of Representatives whose widow, Edna, established an endowment that supports it.

“No one was doing it in 1982,” Sweaney said. “It was huge. What’s happened with a lot of those students is they are now (working in) government affairs, they are in law. They had a different view of what family and consumer sciences could contribute to the issues.”

Lauren Smith, a Cedartown native who graduated with a consumer economics degree in May, spent her final semester at UGA interning in the office of Sen. Frank Ginn.

Smith, who had no interest in politics before taking the internship, said the four months she spent in the program shifted her career goals.

“I’ve always wanted to go to law school, but before I started this, I wanted to do private practice,” she said. “But now I really want to work for the public.”

A critical factor in that discovery was an issue that came up during the legislative session involving broadband expansion for rural Georgia.

Fortunately for Smith, Ginn also served as chairman of the Regulated Industries and Utilities committee, giving Smith a closer look at the issues involved.

“I’m from rural Georgia, but I guess I never realized a lot of people in the state don’t have connectivity,” Smith said. “It made me realize there are issues like that where I can help people who really don’t have a voice or don’t live in a metro area.”

Student on senate floor <p>Janelle George, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, scans the senate floor in search of legislators needed to sign a proclamation.</p>

Janelle George, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, scans the senate floor in search of legislators needed to sign a proclamation.

Typical duties for the aides range from fielding incoming phone calls from constituents and lobbyists, responding to emails, hosting visitors, researching bills and tracking down signatures.

There is some monotony involved, the aides noted, but also some considerable perks.

“(Frye) has taken some research I’ve done and had them turned into bills that have bill numbers now that are making their way through session,” Conner said. “It’s really cool to think that something I did just turned into a bill that might help people.”

For George, a consumer economics major and public policy and management minor, the experience opened her eyes to new opportunities post-graduation.

She’s now considering either law school or a master’s of business administration degree, with plans to eventually pursue a career dealing with public policy.

“Through this internship, I’ve learned that everything we are working on on a day-to-day basis actually affects our lives and the future of our state, and I think that’s really cool,” George said.

“It has opened so many doors for me and has definitely shown me the direction I want to go.”

Alicia Dickens

Legislative Aide, 2006

Manager of School Health and Wellness, The Dairy Alliance, Atlanta

The Legislative/Congressional Aide Program was a perfect fit for me. I was able to live in Washington, D.C., for a summer and visit organizations within the dietetics field, attend health symposiums and individually meet with prominent government officials. These experiences allowed me to think differently about existing challenges in my community and gave me an understanding of what I could personally do to help.

Brooke Dumont

Legislative Aide, 2016

UGA Law School Student

The Legislative Aide Program was the experience of a lifetime. It really opened my eyes to the needs of those in our communities across Georgia and motivated me to continue my education in order to help meet those needs in the legal arena. I now am in my last year of law school and plan to pursue a career as a public defender after graduation.

Brad Bohannon

Legislative Aide, 2001

Vice President of Government Relations for the Georgia Lottery Corporation

The legislative aide program helped shape my career path. The program provided exposure and experience with working in government and solidified my interest. It was not until I concluded the program that I knew I wanted to pursue opportunities working for and with elected officials. I can honestly say I would not be doing what I am today without the program.