Capital Fellows Program connects student with careers


Daisy Aguilar

Vault, an online provider of companies’ rating, reviews and rankings, recently named  The Capital Fellows Program as one of the top 10 best internships in the nation for the fourth year in a row.

With intense training and full hands-on experience, the program provides members called fellows, with the opportunity to engage in public service and prepare for future careers in related fields.

“What really propels our program to the top is a combination of meaningful work,” said Steve Boilard, executive director for Sacramento State’s Center of California Studies. “This fellowship is different. You are working as a paid professional on the staff and doing the kind of work other people on the staff would do.”

The Capital Fellows Programs consists of four separate fellowships covering the judicial, legislative and executive branch.

In the senate and the assembly program, fellows have legislation assigned to them, they take part in meetings, work on amendments and meet with lobby and policy committees.

The executive program works with policy decisions and evaluating programs, while judicial fellows are placed with courts throughout the state to work directly with court officials.

The fellowship begins with a 4-6 week orientation in October that provides a working knowledge of government structure and the legislative process.

Fellows are then placed in an office where they have a mentor who works with them five days a week for 10 to 11 months.

During the program, fellows are also enrolled at Sac State as graduate students, where they attend weekly graduate seminars.

Boilard said this internship is unique to others because of the additional formal training opportunities.

“It provides a lot more deliberate, thoughtful training so that the fellow learns a lot about the whole area of government and not just working a job in government,” Boilard said. “It’s a good combination of academic, experiential and mentorship.”

Terra Townsend was a judicial fellow 2009-10 and gives credit to the fellowship for helping her gain experience.

“It really helped changed who I was, who I am and where I am,” Townsend said.

As a judicial fellow, she examined legislation, internal policies and projects while working with judges. She said if it was not for the fellowship, she would not have the opportunities she has today.

Townsend is the now the director for LegiSchool, a program engaging Northern Californian high school students in matters of government and public policy.

The Capital Fellows Program’s only prerequisites are a bachelor’s degree in any major and a demonstrated interest in state government and public service.

Boilard said it is a highly competitive internship with nearly 1,500 applications from all over the country applying for only 64 available positions.

The senate, assembly and executive fellowship take in 18 fellows a year and the judicial fellowship takes 10.

For each of the four programs, there is a selection committee made up of Sac State faculty, academic advisors and individuals from the separate government branches.

“The first thing we’re going to look for is people who are capable and prepared for this kind of work,” Boilard said. “The second thing is a demonstrated interest or commitment for public service in some way. The third thing I want is for the individual to be changed by the fellowship.”

He said although an applicant may have had outstanding grades and previous experience, the committee looks for someone who has not had many opportunities to work in the government.

Diana Vasquez was an assembly fellow who joined the fellowship in 2011 to develop her knowledge in the field of government. Before the fellowship, Vasquez said she was still unsure on how exactly the state government worked.

“I was able to really understand policy in a state-wide perspective,” Vasquez said. “In the fellowship, you see how everything comes together,”

Vasquez is now a legislative assistant for assembly member Ed Chau, where she advises him on education issues, human services, Latino, women, and LGBT issues.

Many of the fellows are offered permanent job positions in the Capitol after completion of the program.

“The offices we place the fellows in, many of them look to the fellows program as a pipeline for staffing,” Boilard said.