Behind the State House Scenes
Writing Internship Puts Students in the General Assembly Mix
Growing up in Annapolis, Emily Berry ’21 knew people in state government and politics, but the inner workings of the capital city’s State House were mostly a mystery.
This semester, Berry and eight other Terps have discovered for themselves what goes on under the dome as part of the Maryland General Assembly writing internship program. Since January, the undergraduates have been immersed in the government’s annual 90-day legislative flood, which ends at midnight tonight after weeks of hearings, votes, phone calls, emails, hallway conversations and all manner of wheeling and dealing.
“State government matters way more to people than they realize,” said Berry, who interns for Republican Del. Michael Malone of Anne Arundel County. “Legislators and passionate citizens can make such an impact.”
The program has been running for more than a decade, said Thomas Lowderbaugh, principal lecturer in the Department of English and the course’s instructor. The fall semester is essentially practice, as students are introduced to the sorts of writing they will encounter in a politician’s day-to-day work, like research summaries and testimony for legislative hearings. In the spring, they join the river of people who stream into Annapolis for the three-month session where the General Assembly debates and votes on the state budget and thousands of other bills.
“They function more like staffers than interns. This is a situation where students actually do real work,” Lowderbaugh said. “Learning to use language is an important and much-appreciated skill.”
Abbey Rubeling ’20, who works for Democratic state Sen. Clarence Lam of Baltimore and Howard counties, has spent two days a week doing research, responding to constituents and helping however else she can on the more than 40 bills he proposed this session. An aspiring law school student, Rubeling said the “hectic” pace and tight deadlines presented a learning curve for someone used to a university setting.
“Things need to get done that day,” she said. “It’s not meeting a page count; it’s getting your point across succinctly.”
And while one works for a Republican and the other a Democrat, both Berry and Rubeling remarked how the State House—which operates as its own small town of characters, conflicts and watering holes—felt like it relied more on compromise and cooperation than partisan rancor.
“It’s really cool to see, on a smaller level, people can get along,” Berry said.