Willamette, Still Politicking
Students cross State Street each year to carry on Willamette’s best known co-curricular tradition: politics. Two of them, courtesy of a scholarship set up by Fred VanNatta ’60, show us the spectrum of influences such a program can have.
These students are at the same time typical and unique, since their enthusiasm mirrors many who have come before them, but their aptitudes and goals reflect current-day needs and the freedom they are allowed on this side of the street.
In their words — from left to right, so to speak:
Elizabeth Calixtro ’13
Internship: Rep. Debbie Komp (D)
I grew up mostly in Woodburn, Ore., though I went through elementary school in Mexico. I began to learn English in middle school and was president of the debate team for two years. I visited Willamette in middle school and high school, and I loved it.
I find a great support network in the politics department and in the American ethnic studies community at WU. Classes have led me to learn a lot about myself, and Willamette’s motto inspires me to serve our surrounding communities. I appreciate attending an institution that can be held accountable in this regard.
Working at the Oregon State Legislature with Rep. Komp was a valuable experience because I believe that it is the state’s responsibility to address the conditions of disadvantaged people.
At Komp’s office, I made important information available to members of her Spanish-speaking constituency who wouldn’t have access to it otherwise. Woodburn is a largely Latino city, and I translated the constituent resource manual from English to Spanish. It contained local humanitarian aid information, and I distributed it at local hospitals, libraries, police departments, city halls, schools, etc.
The internship gave me an opportunity to explore the mechanisms and culture of the Oregon Legislature. I certainly gained much from it, and will continue to benefit from the experience and the relationships I built. I would advise future VanNatta-supported interns to ask many questions and to meet as many people as they can.
Not Just Making Coffee
Interns like Calixtro and Briggs add tangible accomplishments to their resumes. In Calixtro’s case, she used Spanish skills to reach out to constituents in a new, useful way.
Samantha Briggs ’13
Internship: Rep. Jason Conger (R)
I came to Willamette in part because I wanted to be close to the Capitol for internship purposes, and, as a Republican, I wanted to be somewhere my ideas would be debated. I have come to understand my own values better at WU because I have been confronted with all different points of view.
It was amazing to work for Rep. Conger because he is the representative of my hometown of Bend. In the office I was able to work on constituent casework, which was truly gratifying. Not only was I able to learn about issues that people in our district were having, but I was able to help them create a better situation. Specifically, I worked on several mortgage issues in order to make sure people were not kicked out of their homes.
I am unbelievably grateful for the VanNatta scholarship. I have had a job since I was 15 in order to pay for college — even today I still work two to make ends meet — and this scholarship allowed me to take time away from work and put it into something I am so passionate about. Being able to be at the Capitol 15 hours a week has supplemented my education with realworld understanding.
My best advice for interns would be to go in with an open mind and be ready to work. There are days when the Capitol is mind-numbingly boring and days when there is so much going on it feels like it’s about to burst — but each day is another day to learn and help others.
Making It Happen
“I know the dilemma faced by students attempting to earn part of their way through college,” says Fred VanNatta ’60. “They might pass up an internship that can give them the experience and relationships for a career in order to earn a few dollars for the next tuition payment.”
Thanks to VanNatta, that’s less of a problem now. The VanNatta Public Policy Internship fund provides grants to promising young men and women who might otherwise have to give up their political aspirations in the face of other needs. Anyone can contribute to it, and it already serves several students each year — students like the pair on these pages.
VanNatta’s advice for today’s interns? “Don’t do or say things about people that you don’t want to see on Twitter. And always remember that in the long run, the veracity of your word is more important than your money or your ego.”