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Lebanon Valley College Interns Inside PA Politics
08.07.13 |

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There are many opportunities for students to receive practical, “real life” experience at Lebanon Valley College. For those students interested in political science, or potentially a career in politics, there is no experience more beneficial than the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Legislative Fellowship Program. This 13-week, full-time position, has students participating in weekly workshops and hearing various speakers while observing in a leadership or Committee Chairman office at the state capitol in Harrisburg.

Since 2005, Dr. Philip Benesch has overseen the project at the Valley for 12 different students, “… All applications are meant to be coordinated through me, to streamline the process and maintain quality control. Students interested in the program should speak with me first; I will decide whether their GPA, transcript, and work capabilities are suited to the program; the final selection is, of course, made by the Bipartisan Management Committee at the PA House and, as previously mentioned, it is a highly competitive process.” While it is not impossible to receive the opportunity without a faculty advisor, it has happened only once in the past eight years.

The most recent of Benesch’s students to complete the fellowship is Roberto “Tito” Valdes. “I wanted to participate in the program because from the time that I can remember, I have had a keen interest in politics… however, I never had much exposure to state government.” Valdes said. “I decided to look into the fellowship and apply.” Specifically, Valdes worked in the office of Democratic Party Whip Michael K. Hanna.

Unlike many of the other workers, who spent most of their time with specific committees, Valdes worked in a leadership office, “I had the opportunity to see very diverse issues discussed and addressed. For some of my peers, this wasn't the case. They were very focused on a particular issue—whether it be gaming, veterans affairs, education, or anything along those lines. All very interesting topics—but I was exposed to a plethora of topics. This kept things interesting and refreshing.”

This exposure helped Valdes with the final project all interns must complete: developing and defending an original piece of legislation on a topic of their choice.

Valdes chose to tackle the controversial topic of marriage and civil unions. His piece of legislation was actually an amendment to the already existing Title 23. His goal was to remove, completely, the word “marriage” from the law. Changing the idea of “marriage” to only exist in the private sense. Any union recognized by the government would be considered a civil union. Valdes’ presentation and defense can be seen on YouTube at this link:

When asked why he pushes his students to take on this opportunity, Dr. Benesch says, “The program is high-profile, competitive, full-time and paid. It provides students with remarkable exposure to the inside of the political process, direct working relationships with elected representatives, their staffers, committee resources, and legislative counsel.”

It’s hard to argue with Benesch as Valdes’ praise of the experience is proof that this experience is beneficial, realistic and potentially life changing, “The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Legislative Fellowship Program is amazing. You learn so much, meet so many amazing people, and have access that most interns don't dream of.”

Valdes, however, does warn those who might be discouraged by potential debate: “It is very political and sometimes the partisanship that is so characteristic of the dialogue that happens is discouraging at times but overall, I had an amazing experience. I would strongly recommend it for anyone with an interest in politics.”

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