Every Thursday, a handful of students trickle slowly into the Wildcat Chambers, handing their student IDs to whoever is standing at the door to have their attendance counted before slipping into the rows facing the projector screen at the front of the room.
Many of them have their laptops pulled up on the tables in front of them. Some are twisting in their chairs as far as the mechanism will let them. Hushed conversations buzz throughout the room.
It isn’t student senate, however, that’s about to be called to order. The time is now 5:45 p.m., and the newly-revised Student Governing Association intern program is about to begin.
The new program combines a revised version of the Accelerated Fellowship Program, a several-weeklong SGA informative series that ran in the early months of the spring 2018 semester, with what the committee deemed successful aspects of the senate intern program. It is divided into two phases.
Phase one, the part of the program modeled after the AFP, is a five-week education program featuring discussions, guest speakers and other assorted activities aimed at giving those in attendance a basic education about SGA. Students who attend three of the five weeks of sessions are then encouraged to apply for the next phase.
“We believe this structure will allow students to establish an understanding of what opportunities are available and if they see themselves becoming a leader in SGA before making that full year commitment,” Sadie Polson, intern coordinator and junior in marketing, said.
Throughout the year, there will be three separate series of the phase one program. While the first session of phase one has already begun, Polson said, there will be additional phase one sessions starting on Oct. 18 and Jan. 31.
Jordan Kiehl, student body president and senior in industrial engineering, was the intern coordinator for the 2016-2017 senate intern class.
Kiehl said in opening the program to additional entrances throughout the year, it opens the program to students who maybe need time to acclimate to university life or students who were hyper-involved in high school and need a break.
The next phase, phase two, will look more similar to the senate intern program implemented in years past. Students who wish to go on with the program must apply and be selected by the intern coordinators. The legislation recommends a cap at 35 interns, but the coordinators are afforded the discretion to allow for more if they feel it is fit.
Unlike previous years, Kiehl said phase two allows interns to get involved in branches outside of legislation. In the past, she said, interns were required to be involved in student senate, but were unable to get involved inside the other branches.
“Now that we are showing off all these different branches and all the different kinds of jobs and duties you can really do and what you want to invest in,” Kiehl said. “That definitely, I think, will help keep students engaged. It’s something that we’re really proud of and our intern program wasn’t showing that off, that there are all these different avenues students can go down.”
Hayley Spellman, student senator and senior in communication studies and political science, came to SGA partially through the AFP. Spellman said she views the new program as a way to bring SGA to students as opposed to “bringing students to SGA.”
Ryan Kelly, speaker of the student senate and junior in communication studies, was chair of the Special Committee on Membership, the committee that spent much of second semester of the previous academic year working to make SGA more accessible to often-marginalized student populations at Kansas State.
Kelly, who like many of the leaders within SGA, came to the governing body through the intern program and was successful in the program.
Despite his positive experience, he said a good place to start in terms of inspiring a more inclusive SGA was the senate intern program because the people selected to be interns were often the people that would go on to run for higher office within the organization.
In addition to limiting the number of students allowed entrance in the program, Kelly said there were demographic limitations in the old system, too.
In his intern class, which served in the 2016-2017 SGA term, Kelly was one of 25 interns selected for the student senate internship, but said he was “one of the few interns of color” and one of the only interns not affiliated with Greek Life.
“I’m not saying that this was necessarily a barrier to my success as and intern, but it’s definitely made it more difficult for me to connect to individuals within student government,” Kelly said. “That observation that I had and the feeling that I had about the intern program definitely motivated and partially fueled my passion for looking to reform the intern program to what it is today.”
The program in practice now is not entirely what the Special Committee on Membership had intended when the proposed legislation was first introduced to student senate in March.
In fact, the initial bill was not passed and was sent back to the Special Committee where it was revised. The first iteration of the bill did not include any sort of cap on entrance to the new SGA intern program.
When it came up for final action at the end of the 2017-2018 term, the program required an application process for those who wished to continue into phase two of the program and a recommended cap to be imposed at the discretion of the intern coordinators.
Nathan Bothwell, intern coordinator and sophomore in political science, was one of the individuals that debated the bill when it was first introduced to student senate.
Bothwell said he was concerned about “logistical problems” particularly in regard to the amount of work that would be placed on intern coordinators and the limited capacity of the program to offer personalized experiences.
“I was never against expanding the program or creating more opportunities to learn about SGA,” Bothwell said. “I just wanted to ensure that other students could have the same quality intern experience that I had.”
Unlike Bothwell, Polson never went through the intern program in its older form, but got involved directly through the executive branch as the director of outreach to the Association of Residence Halls and student organizations.
“I wanted to be an intern coordinator simply to empower students who have the potential to greatly impact our university through SGA,” Polson said.
Creighton Glasscock, freshman in computer science and math and participant in the current phase one program, said the program is helpful.
“I think that’s great for creating more interest in student government and making it seem more accessible to everyone,” Glasscock said.
Aside from the “immediate effects” of changing the intern program in order to reach more students, Kelly said he hopes for “macro-level” changes within SGA as well.
“I would say is that the reason that a lot of students, particularly in these certain demographics that don’t vote, they don’t vote because they don’t see themselves in the candidates,” Kelly said. “Hopefully in time, more students from different corners of campus start to run, start to engage with members of their own communities and in the end, we see a more engaged, a more involved campus.”