MSU students use legislative experience during COVID-19

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The entrance of the Anderson House Office Building, where most state representatives have their offices.

Ryland Bennett, a Michigan State University sophomore studying political science, did not always want to work in politics.

In high school, Bennett played football and considered attending a college where he could continue playing the sport.

Bennett was first drawn to finance and the stock market, but that changed when the 2016 election sparked his interest in politics. 

After having conversations about the election in history class and volunteering with a campaign, Bennett had to consider if his passion for politics was worth more than football.

“So, rather than being in the weight room three days or each day of the week, I can go be in an office and I can go start learning,” Bennett said. “I can get a four-year head start, essentially, so that was one of the main reasons I ended up coming to Michigan State.”

Bennett began a legislative internship for State Rep. Mark Huizenga, R-Walker, at the start of February. But this was not Bennett’s first political experience in Lansing, previously interning at the Michigan Republican Party and for State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake.

Many MSU students looking to gain government experience take advantage of the internship and career opportunities in the Legislature.

While this past year has prevented more in-person events, interactions and the opportunity to observe committees, it has not prevented students from working in Lansing.

The Anderson House Office Building, which faces the front of the Michigan State Capitol. Photo by Jack Harrison.

In fact, some students acquired an internship or legislative position because of COVID-19.

Max Olivero, a legislative field experience coordinator and 2013 MSU graduate, said he has seen many legislative positions open this year, making it an ideal time for students to apply for positions.

Olivero said working in the Legislature is an ideal internship for students to explore their interests due to the “quality and quantity” of internships.

Olivero said many MSU alumni “got their start in the Michigan Legislature and have moved on to do incredible things in government and a variety of other professional fields.”

Kinsey Kutilek, a senior studying social relations in James Madison College and sociology and educational studies, worked as an intern for State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, in the fall of 2019.

Kutilek returned to the office in January of 2021 as a legislative aide. She schedules appearances, meetings and manages constituent relations.  

“This was definitely a spur-of-the-moment position, as I initially didn’t even plan to work with state government again,” Kutilek said. “Due to COVID-19, I was unable to gain as much work experience in the summer and fall of 2020, so I have been taking as many opportunities as I can during my last semester.”

Kutilek takes photo with State Rep. Hammoud in his office in fall of 2019. Photo courtesy of Kutilek. 

Kutilek took the job after her former office reached out in need of staffers.

“I don’t know if this has to do specifically with COVID-19, with there being less students on campus, or with it just being a new term, but I have seen many postings of legislative offices looking for interns,” Kutilek said.

Although she is going into the office, Kutilek said there is not the traffic of lobbyists and representatives she experienced in 2019.

Not all interns and staff are going into the office. For Tia Postema, a sophomore studying social relations in James Madison College and journalism, she works entirely remotely.

Postema is an intern for State Rep. Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit, managing social media and assisting with constituent relations.

After being furloughed from her job at Sparty’s Market, Postema received an unemployment check, which motivated her to apply for an unpaid internship.

“So, actually, the timing was perfect for it just because I knew it would be an unpaid position, but I could do it and still keep on top of everything else without having to overwork myself,” Postema said.

Although working remotely has allowed Postema to have a flexible schedule, she said it has made communication and training difficult.

“For the people in charge of my position, they didn’t really have the tools set up to train interns virtually, so it was kind of a rocky start,” Postema said.

Postema answers emails for the representative’s office at her apartment. Photo courtesy of Postema.

Because all the interns work remotely, Postema works alongside many others who were attracted to a remote internship. 

Postema noted that she has enjoyed gaining experience in state government and may pursue more opportunities.

Bennett, who has held multiple positions, plans to pursue something more national in Washington, D.C. following the completion of his current internship. Nevertheless, he has valued his experience in state government.

“It’s had different effects on me like working in the Legislature, and seeing it all go around. I think it has strengthened that I want to be here,” Bennett said. “I’ve had a little bit of refining, but it definitely hasn’t discouraged me and I’m still duking it out in the Legislature.”