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Capitol Lessons

A longstanding internship at the Minnesota State Capitol helps students navigate their faith, beliefs, and more as they transition from Bethel into the working world.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

May 22, 2019 | 1 p.m.

Ashley DeBoer ’19 and Justine Jaenisch ’20

Ashley DeBoer ’19 and Justine Jaenisch ’20 are the latest students from Bethel’s Department of Political Science to intern with senators at the Minnesota State Capitol.

Before spring break, Justine Jaenisch ’20 sought Professor of Political Science Andrew Bramsen’s advice. She was struggling to balance her faith with her work as an intern at the Minnesota State Capitol. He told her to “Be the aroma of Jesus.” “That’s so relevant,” she says. “You can’t always push your faith on someone, but it’s like—just be nice or encourage people.”

Ashley DeBoer ’19 faced her own challenges during her internship at the Capitol. She was struck by the sheer volume of issues when she shadowed District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, as he discussed topics like insurance, education, elderly healthcare, and many more. “He had to be informed about everything,” she says. “He had to know his stance on everything so that just kind of shocked me. I’m not prepared enough to go into politics right now and represent a group of people, because I just don’t know how I feel about everything.”

DeBoer and Jaenisch interned in the Minnesota Senate over the spring semester, continuing a long tradition of Bethel interns at the Capitol. And the challenges and lessons from the Capitol are not new; they are a vital part of the intern experience. After learning political theories in class, the internship introduces students to the political process in action, revealing its complexities and messiness. And just as important, it helps students navigate the obstacles of transitioning from college to their careers.

“I just loved it”

Both DeBoer and Jaenisch’s interest in politics sparked at a young age. Excited by a woman running for vice president, DeBoer dressed as Sarah Palin for Halloween in 2008. Then on election night, the fifth-grader made a PowerPoint to present election results to her parents. The buzz of campaigns continued to draw DeBoer to politics in high school. Growing up in rural Iowa—the home of the first presidential caucus every four years—made it easy to cultivate an interest. She attended many campaign events close to home during the 2016 election. “They all make an effort to come to Iowa, and they all want to appeal to you,” she says of the candidates.

Similarly, Jaenisch’s passion for politics grew in high school, and she volunteered for the reelection campaign of Minnesota District 17A Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, in 2016. “I just loved it,” Jaenisch says. “I went door-knocking every single day all throughout the summer from June through November.”

As interns at the Capitol, Jaenisch and DeBoer’s work revolved around constituent relations, as they tracked and replied to letters, calls, and emails to their senator. Jaenisch interned with District 31 Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, and DeBoer interned with Dahms. Along with similar constituent work, DeBoer also helped manage the senator’s Facebook page. On some days, DeBoer shadowed Dahms and watched as he presented bills on the floor or chaired the Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy committee. Both enjoyed attending committee meetings and observing full floor debates, which became more frequent toward the end of the legislative session.

While interns’ roles and responsibilities are often limited, an important aspect is to introduce students to the working world. Internships expose students to a field like politics, the experience helps them build work skills as they progress from the classroom into workplaces. Bramsen notes internships are often more about developing habits, trustworthiness, and responsibility as workers. “Internships are maybe a good little dose of reality,” Bramsen says.

Internships are maybe a good little dose of reality.

— Professor of Political Science Andrew Bramsen

Balancing beliefs

Throughout their internships, DeBoer and Jaenisch often worked to balance their personal beliefs with their work. DeBoer and Jaenisch continue to hone their own political beliefs. Jaenisch cares deeply about education, local government, health care, health and human services, and agriculture. DeBoer cares deeply about insurance issues, and, as a mentor in Bethel’s BUILD program, closely tracks issues pertaining to people with disabilities.

Jaenisch and DeBoer both said they worked to be careful when responding to issues because they wanted to respond in a way that reflects their senator’s views. DeBoer faced similar challenges. After a group of high schoolers sent letters to Dahms, DeBoer was tasked with writing responses. She struggled to respond as issues ranged from vaping to poaching to sex education, but a legislative assistant helped her create a template to respond.

The two also continue learning how to blend their faith with their work. Jaenisch says the toughest part has been balancing her faith with the work when people’s beliefs are so different. Bramsen stressed people working at or visiting the Capitol often just want to be heard. He urged her to show her faith by being someone who listens. DeBoer faced similar challenges, but she found people open to faith at the Capitol, and she talked with a legislative assistant about faith. When DeBoer interviewed Dahms as part of her internship, he told DeBoer it’s important to remain true to your values, as it’s easy to fall into a trap of trying to make people happy.

Such challenges are not new, nor do they abate after college. Stephen Chang ’15, a political science major who interned at the Capitol, took steps to balance his faith with the many demands of his job as a press assistant in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office. He reserves Sunday mornings for church and Monday nights for small group or service nights. “I’ve made a hard and fast rule after the first few years of working in politics that I specifically set aside time to unplug from work and engage with the Lord. Even in the midst of busy times, I don’t compromise,” says Chang, who graduated with a political science degree.

As internships transition students from college, Bramsen stresses the importance of finding a support system outside of Bethel. On campus, a support structure is provided through life in a Christian community. He encourages students to think about how they can get involved in a church and find community after their time at Bethel.

Critical thinking

After Bethel, Jaenisch and DeBoer both hope to one day run for public office. DeBoer plans to attend law school, and Jaenisch is looking ahead to working on a 2020 campaign. As they look ahead, the two praised Bethel for helping prepare them for the work to come, and they commended their professors and their passion for politics.

Chang credits Bethel’s liberal arts education—and his professors—for teaching him critical-thinking beyond a single party’s lens. That helped him become a more rounded worker because he needs to understand and engage with views he doesn’t agree with in the Texas Governor's Office. Chang says his Bethel professors discussed and exposed students to different viewpoints and worldviews to help students prepare for their careers. “But they never told us what to think,” Chang says. “They taught us how to think.”

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