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Victoria students get close to American politics

Victoria students get close to American politics

Two Victoria University students have a unique opportunity to experience the American legislative process first-hand this summer as part of a wider initiative to strengthen relations between New Zealand and America.

Clark Hennessy and Laura de Haan, who are studying in Victoria’s prestigious honours-level parliamentary internship programme in Political Science and International Relations, are flying out to Washington tonight to work as interns to the US Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington DC.

Victoria Comparative Politics senior lecturer Dr Jon Johansson says being able to work in the US Congress straight after a presidential election will be “an amazing experience”.

The inaugural internships, which run until late January 2013, will be funded by the Washington-based US-NZ Council. New Zealand’s Ambassador to the United States, Mike Moore, has been a driving force behind the initiative.

The Victoria internships expand a programme announced by the US-NZ Council on the one-year anniversary of the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch. A number of council members were in Christchurch during the earthquake on February 22, 2011, and went on to choose the University of Canterbury to receive the first two internships. Victoria’s students will intern alongside those University of Canterbury students this summer.

Victoria’s selection as the next university to participate in the programme reflects the quality of its Political Science and International Relations programme says Dr Johansson.

Victoria already runs its own highly successful internship programme at the New Zealand Parliament. The decade-old course attracts students from throughout the country who spend one day a week working in a MPs office as part of their course requirements.

“Being in Wellington allows us to provide that advantage for students,” says Dr Johansson. “Our internship programme is providing a fantastic career pathway with many students becoming indispensable to the politician they are working for, and ending up joining the office full time.

“Being able to now also provide the opportunity for students to intern in the United States enhances that and is a huge endorsement of what we are doing here.”

Clark Hennesy will join the office of Republican congressman Mike Conoway while Laura de Haan will be working for Democrat congressman George Miller.
Clark, who describes himself as a “political junkie” says interning at the US congress is a career goal he didn’t expect to achieve straight out of university.

“It’s a dream opportunity both to gain experience and to make connections that will hopefully allow me to eventually go back and work in the American political system.”

Laura says working in Labour MP Jacinda Ardern’s office this year as part of the Victoria internship programme has prepared her for her next role in Washington.

“Even though it’s a different system, seeing the inner workings of a politician’s office in Wellington has given me confidence to take on the role in the US.”

Dr Johansson says as well as providing outstanding experience, having two students in the US Congress will raise the profile of New Zealand and Victoria University.

“Our students are highly intelligent and adaptable individuals. I also think the US congressmen and women they meet will be amazed by how much they know about the American political system.”

While in Washington, Clark and Laura will also take part in educational activities co-ordinated by the Washington Centre for Internships and Academic Seminars, one of America’s most experienced and respected student exchange organisations, the US-NZ Council and the New Zealand Embassy.

Dr Johansson expects the opportunity for Victoria students to intern in the US congress will be offered every year and may, in time, be extended to give students from a United States university the chance to experience the New Zealand political system.
“Internships like this are a really effective way to improve knowledge and build friendships between two countries.”

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