Rice Social Sciences Students get Immersive Internship Experiences at the Texas State Capitol

Texas State Capitol Building

This semester, three social sciences students are getting an up-close look at the 88th Texas legislative session. Harlan Fellows Roberto Morales Quintero, '24, and C.J. Pfanstiel, ‘24, and Texas Legislative Intern, Hawani Adugna, MGA ‘23, are spending the spring in Austin to learn the ins and outs of policymaking at the state level.

Roberto Morales Quintero HeadshotRoberto Morales Quintero, ‘24

Roberto Morales Quintero started his journey at Rice after transferring from a community college, Lone Star College-Tomball, where he received an Honors Associate of Arts. He chose to major in sociology at Rice because of the program’s interdisciplinary focus. He also was drawn to the department’s faculty, whose research areas align with his interests, such as education, labor, and immigration.

Curious about the research side of policy, Morales Quintero decided to apply to be a Harlan Fellow. He wanted to explore a career that incorporates research and to see how research impacts the way in which policy is drafted. Morales Quintero works in the office of Diego Bernal, House Representative for District 123, a district that covers part of San Antonio. Bernal’s involvement in the Public Education Committee particularly stood out to Morales Quintero, and he is looking forward to seeing how such matters are discussed during this session.

As a Harlan Fellow, Morales Quintero’s position at the Austin office is primarily research-based, which consists of helping with the research behind policy drafts and bill analyses. He is also involved in district office tasks; constituents call in to express their opinions on certain propositions in the session – whether related to labor, public health, or other matters – and Morales Quintero directs them to the appropriate offices in Austin that can assist them.

At the time of this writing, Bernal’s office was still waiting for committees to be assigned for the legislative session.

“The way it works is each representative will put their preferred committees on a list that gets sent to the Speaker,” explained Morales Quintero. He continued, “Then there's this whole process on who gets assigned where, and then from there, they start reviewing the bills, and those sessions commence.”

After graduation, Morales Quintero hopes to pursue research as a doctoral student or attend law school. He can envision himself working at a thinktank as a social scientist or taking a research position in the state government.

Morales Quintero’s favorite aspect of the internship is the ability to network with numerous interesting people.

“Since day one, there have been tons of people in different groups coming in and out of the office, whether it’s to drop off their briefs on their agendas for the session, or just to say hi,” said Morales Quintero. He continued, “They are always friendly, and they love getting to know the students, so it’s a good chance to network with a lot of different people whom I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet if it wasn't for this program.”

C.J. Pfanstiel HeadshotC.J. Pfanstiel, ‘24

No stranger to state government and politics, C.J. Pfanstiel headed his high school’s Social Studies Honor Society, which provided him with the opportunity to interact with local city council members and a U.S. Congresswoman. These experiences led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science at Rice.

Pfanstiel has served as an intern in various capacities since his sophomore year at Rice. This included an internship with the district office for Congressman Dan Crenshaw, a Kinder Institute for Urban Research Community Bridges Fellowship with a community nonprofit in the Fifth Ward of Houston, and an internship in Washington, D.C. with Congressman Crenshaw’s office.

Although Pfanstiel has served in various intern roles, the Harlan Fellows program has provided new policy-related insights and experiences.

“I’ve always been interested,” Pfanstiel said, “but I've never known the ins and outs of the actual bills that were passed and how they directly affected how agencies performed or how organizations were given funding.”

When Pfanstiel was in Washington, D.C., he worked with the Health Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce Committee. As such, he is particularly looking forward to this legislative session to learn more about health policies at the state level. As an intern, Pfanstiel follows the Health and Human Services Committee and provides his senator, Brandon Creighton, with ongoing updates. Other functions of his position include assisting senior policy staff with projects and hosting meetings with a variety of health organization stakeholders.

In addition to learning more about state policy, Pfanstiel is grateful for the opportunity to experience Austin, a city that is new to him. The immersive nature of the fellowship enables students to experience a different location and culture, another benefit of the program.

After graduation, Pfanstiel hopes to attend law school, using the policy knowledge he has acquired to support his pursuits.

“My ultimate goal by the end of this internship is to have a near-expert grasp of policy,” said Pfanstiel. He continued, “It has been really interesting so far to see how Federal funding has been used at a state level and how we are utilizing a lot of those funds to implement all kinds of programs here in Texas.”

Hawani Adugna HeadshotHawani Adugna, MGA ‘23

Hawani Adugna was ready to travel to Moldova as a member of the Peace Corps, but due to COVID-19 restrictions and regulations, her assignment was postponed. Because she wanted to attend graduate school after serving on the Peace Corps, she decided to switch her timeline around and apply for Rice’s Master of Global Affairs (MGA) program, where she is now focusing on international security.

Rice MGA students are required to participate in an internship program, which is what led Adugna to apply for the Texas Legislative Internship Program (TLIP) through Commissioner Rodney Ellis. Adugna serves as a legislative aide for House Representative Sheryl Cole of District 46, which covers the Austin City area.

“I have been so focused on a more international or federal area of expertise, that being at a state level is definitely more eye opening,” said Adugna. She continued, “You see a lot of the changes happen more in real-time than you might see on a national level.”

As part of her job responsibilities, Adugna holds meetings with constituents, particularly on their advocacy days. Representative Cole’s focus areas include housing and higher education, so many of the discussions are centered around these topics. Adugna also works on policy memos and policy briefs and analyzes large documents, which she condenses into smaller formats.

Adugna says she is excited to sit in meetings during the legislative session, come March.

“That's when you really see people on the floor talking about the bills that they're truly invested in,” said Adugna. She continued, “It's interesting to see how two parties try to work together on a lot of bills.”

In addition to the job itself, Adugna appreciates all the networking opportunities available. At the Capitol, there are numerous receptions, lunch and learns, and legislative staffing briefs, and people are genuinely encouraging and helpful.

As for the future, Adugna is considering going into foreign service and diplomacy, international crisis management, or human rights services. However, she is keeping an open mind.

“It's really interesting to see the different routes people have chosen to take, and it's nice that people are very open and willing to talk to you about the path they took,” said Adugna. She continued, “I'm choosing to soak in all the information that I'm gathering and learning from this experience to create exactly what I want to do. I'm still very positive that I would like to spend the next couple of years working in this area, whether it's legislative or it's in a different branch of government, so this is a nice steppingstone.”

Photo: ©JByard from Getty Images via Canva.com