February 19, 2015
When the 84th session of the Texas Legislature convened on January 13, 2015, seven second-year Master of Public Service and Administration students from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University were getting an up-close view of the action.
The students are enrolled in the Texas Legislative Capstone course—a two-semester class taught by Dr. Ann Bowman, professor and Hazel Davis and Robert Kennedy Endowed Chair in Government and Public Service at the Bush School. The students spent the fall semester learning about legislatures in general and the Texas Legislature in particular. They arrived at the capitol in January ready to apply the knowledge and skills learned in their courses to myriad public policy issues confronting the state of Texas and its elected representatives. This is the third legislative session in which Bush School Capstone students have worked in the Texas Legislature.
“The members who hire these students as legislative aides and analysts get motivated, well-informed, and highly skilled individuals on their team,” Bowman said. “The experience is invaluable for the students since legislatures are fascinating policymaking institutions, replete with rules and norms that are seldom seen by the public but are key knowledge for those who plan a public service career.”
Bowman noted that the Bush School students quickly find themselves in the thick of the action but their orientation to the legislative environment is made smoother thanks to the efforts of Bush School graduates who are working or have worked in the legislature.
The students and the offices in which they are working are Matthew Bangcaya—Representative J.M. Lozano, Thomas DiGiuseppe—Representative Scott Turner, Blake Dodd—Representative Cindy Burkett, Christopher Gruning—Representative Ron Simmons, Morgan Nelson—Senator Donna Campbell, Rebecca Parma—Representative Stephanie Klick, and Johannah Roberson—Senator Rodney Ellis.
In addition to their legislative work, the students take classes during the semester, primarily directed studies or online courses. Even though they will receive their master’s degrees in mid-May, the students will work in the legislature until the session ends in early June.
Like other Capstone projects, the students are required to produce an in-depth research report at the end of the semester. The focus of this session’s deliverable is the professionalization of the Texas Legislature. Previous legislative Capstones have studied the legislative redistricting process and the Texas rainy day fund.
“This is an amazing chance to work in Texas’ policymaking process while still completing our degrees,” said Rebecca Parma, MPSA Class of 2015. “This opportunity to network, develop on-the-job skills, and finish school is possible because of the Bush School and the resources it has provided us.”
Bowman says that the benefits to students from working in the legislature are clear: they do important work that influences public policy in the state of Texas, and also learn a tremendous amount about the functioning of state government—knowledge that serves them well when they begin their careers.
“There are also significant networking opportunities for the students during the session,” Bowman said. “The University and the state both benefit from the work of these high-quality master’s students who are committed to public service.”