SJR Column: ILSIP, July 2015

The Springfield campus of the University of Illinois is known for “Leadership lived”, a reputation that honors the university’s tradition of educating public servants and leaders and that reflects the unique advantages offered by the campus’s location in the state capital of Illinois and the home of Abraham Lincoln.

Though many UIS programs and activities illustrate the “Leadership lived” reputation, the Illinois Legislative Staff Internship Program, fondly known as ILSIP, is an exceptionally productive example.

Barbara Van Dyke-Brown, who has directed the ILSIP program for the past 11 years, informs me that nearly 1000 young college graduates have participated in the ILSIP program since its founding over 50 years ago and many (including former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar) have gone on to distinguished careers in public service in our state and elsewhere.

Funded by state government and administered by UIS, ILSIP grew out of a desire to provide talented and motivated individuals with insight into the legislative process in the real-world environment of the Illinois legislature. At the same time the experience sets participants on a solid career path, with a valuable resume-builder that can lead to fulltime careers in state or federal government, executive roles in business or non-profit agencies, or additional educational opportunities like law or graduate school.

Recruitment for the ILSIP program is a highly competitive process, with more than 100 applicants competing for 24 internship placements each year. Though most applicants are graduates of Illinois universities, recent ILSIP participants have also come from Brown University (Rhode Island), Michigan State University, San Diego State University and the University of Washington. There was even a program applicant from London this year.

The ILSIP program offers interns a 10 1/2 month, fulltime paid position as a professional legislative staff member working with one of the partisan staffs of the Illinois General Assembly or with the Legislative Research Unit. Interns also participate in a graduate-level academic seminar conducted by UIS faculty – which often launches their pursuit of a valuable graduate degree from UIS.

In addition to providing interns exposure to the legislative process, ILSIP also benefits Illinois legislative leaders and the entire General Assembly with valuable research and other professional staff assistance.

“The idea,” says Barbara, “is not only to provide interns an opportunity to experience the legislative process but also for them to grow and contribute to the process. ILSIP interns feel like their actions have consequences – and they do.”

Kristen Deane and Ramiro Hernandez were both accepted for the ILSIP program a year ago. Kristen is from the village of Carol Stream in DuPage County and earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Dayton. Ramiro, a first-generation Mexican-American, is from the south side of Chicago and graduated from DePaul with a degree in History. Ramiro describes his experience this past year with the Illinois House of Representatives Research and Appropriations Staff as “infinitely fulfilling.” His assignment included assisting with the drafting of legislation, working on several committees including the House Revenue and House Labor Committees, conducting analyses for state agency budgets and helping on various research projects. “The work I produced, the experiences I enjoyed, and the knowledge I gained,” says Ramiro, “have made me a better citizen and a more capable person.”

Kristen, whose internship was also with the House of Representatives Staff, echoes Ramiro’s appreciation for the experience: “One thing I learned from the ILSIP internship is that being a hard worker is one of the most important qualities someone can have … and that applies to both fulfilling job duties and building relationships.” Among several assignments, Kristin staffed the Elementary and Secondary Education committees and found the networking opportunities with every assignment to be “invaluable”.

According to Director Van Dyke-Brown, 14 of this year’s 24 ILSIP internship graduates accepted fulltime professional positions in Illinois state government after their internships were completed. That number includes Kristen and Ramiro, who have both become members of the House Republican Research and Appropriations Staff – where their careers in state government began nearly a year ago thanks to the exceptional opportunities provided by the Illinois Legislative Staff Internship Program. Who knows? Maybe one of them will be Governor some day!

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch