Highlights for college students who intern with the Washington State Legislature include a group photo with the governor and a mock legislative debate on the floor of the Senate. The photo is a reminder of their heady days in Olympia. The debate gives interns a chance to experience government in action - and to sit in the leather chairs usually occupied by lawmakers.
Seattle Pacific University senior Nasue Nishida, picked for an internship during the 1999 session, showed she had political savvy from the start. During the photo shoot, she carefully noted Governor Gary Locke's location, then made her way through the crowd until she stood next to him for the picture.
"Yeah, I sort of elbowed my way over there," she laughs.
The 22-year-old from Moses Lake, Washington, blends moxie with manners, qualities that helped her make the cut. As one of only 61 college students from around the state to work in this year's session, Nishida went through a rigorous selection process.
"At one point during the interview, they handed me a laptop computer and said, 'Here. Write a letter to a constituent,'" she recalls with feigned horror. "Luckily, I learned a lot about writing when I was on the Falcon," she says, referring to SPU's student newspaper.
Only about half of the students who apply for internships get them, says House Intern Coordinator Joan Elgee, who oversees the students working in the House. Nishida was a standout. "She has top-notch skills. I've seen her work on really complex constituent matters."
The young intern wasn't afraid of responsibility either. Assigned for a time to Barbara Lisk, the House Republican leader, Nishida filled in when Lisk's legislative assistant fell ill and was out for several days. "Nasue just stepped up to the job and covered the desk," says Elgee.
Nishida also worked in Democrat Dave Quall's office, a special treat since Quall is a 1961 graduate of Seattle Pacific.
"I was so pleased SPU sent an intern here this year," Quall says. In fact, Nishida is the first Seattle Pacific student to apply for a legislative internship in five years. "Nasue has energy, a great attitude and a strong personality. She did very well here."
Quall also invited her, as his guest, to attend the annual Governor's Prayer Breakfast, an event which thrilled Nishida.
That's a lot of living packed into just a few weeks but Nishida tends to be on the driven side. While double majoring in communication and political science at SPU, she has completed internships at two television stations and studied in France. These and other opportunities helped prepare her for the Legislature, although there were some surprises.
"It's more partisan than I thought it would be," she says, adding that even with party bickering, the commitment of those who work in the Legislature - staff and lawmakers - was inspiring. "I looked at all these people and I saw that they really cared."
The internship rapidly pushed her out of the semi-protected environment she calls "the SPU bubble." During the interns' mock debate on a family medical leave bill, students argued over whether benefits should be given to an employee's "domestic partner." Some said "no" because partners could include unmarried and homosexual couples.
The sensitive subject didn't faze Nishida. In fact, she relished the debate. "I'm not easily offended," she says with a wave of the hand, "and these are important issues that have to be talked about."
On the job, interns had to leave their personal biases behind. "From the get go, we were told that we're nonpartisan staff and our job is to learn," says Nishida.
Learn she did and now Nishida is considering a career in public service, which is gratifying to her former "boss," Representative Lisk. "I'm delighted Nasue had a good experience with elected officials," she comments. "Our system of government depends on the conviction of young people like her who will inherit it."
Of course, going into public service could mean abandoning an old and cherished dream of Nishida's - working in TV.
"I wanted to be just like Oprah," Nishida explains. She has long imagined her own TV forum from which she could explore news and issues. "I even had the title: The Nasue Nishida Show." She gives a small, rueful smile. "My life was all planned out. I was so focused that I thought I wouldn't even get married."
As she approaches graduation, however, Nishida is seriously involved with a young man and suspects that television might not be the right choice for her after all. Change is not always comfortable, and to go from certainty to ambiguity is scary, she admits. "I realize that, gosh, I don't really know about the future anymore."
Not that she is entirely awash. As a Christian, Nishida has values that she says will guide her through the difficult decisions of early adulthood. "I always knew I wanted to help in some way, to make a difference, to be a street warrior. Being a legislative intern just opened up a lot more possibilities."