UTSA Legislative Scholars Program takes students to House of Representatives


Senior English major Nicole Robbins has gone where very few UTSA students have been before-to the state capitol as an intern during the House of Representatives legislative sessions.

The UTSA Legislative Scholars Program provides the opportunity for current UTSA students and recent graduates to become legislative assistants for a Texas House of Representative member.

The program, which runs Jan. 11 through May 30, is the result of collaboration between Texas State Representative Ruth J. McClendon and UTSA. During this legislative session, lawmakers will consider bills important to students such as allowing guns in classrooms and capping tuition.

Students are responsible for their own housing, transportation and meals during their 140 day stay in Austin. They do, however, receive a $10,000 stipend, distributed in $2,000 monthly increments. They also receive either undergraduate or graduate credit, depending on their status as a student.

The program was created in September 2004 in hopes of helping students learn both academically and experimentally. Dr. Richard Gambitta, director of the Institute for Law and Public Affairs said, “The program adds the invaluable component of ‘learning through participation’ to ‘learning through books’.”

Students are chosen by a faculty panel. Those students who pass the application process are subjected to a competitive evaluation process. The panel looks for a variety of qualities that span from GPA to extracurricular activities.

“We look for students who can write well. We want students who have displayed an ability to work well with others. We seek a diverse group. We look at the background of the student, what type of life they had, what type and diversity of experiences have they had and what mission they seem to have in life,” Gambitta said.

The panel also seeks students who are interested in public policy and have the ability to live in Austin.

The panel reviews two writing sections. Under the history section on the application, the panel reviews the personal statement to ensure it is well written and that the student has an interest in public policy. The second writing sample is evaluated on style and content.

“The sample can be either (an) original one or a polished revision of one from the past,” Gambitta said.

Two letters of recommendation also need to be submitted. Students should avoid submitting letters written by relatives. “The best letters are from faculty members that understand the ability of the student to think, analyze, write and produce under pressure,” Gambitta said.

The five UTSA students in the program are Jessica Castilleja, Kimberly Graves, Caryn Malone, Allen Match and Nicole Robbins.

Malone graduated last fall with a major in political science and a minor in legal studies. She chose to apply to the program after she spent last summer in Washington D.C. as an Archer Fellow. Malone also won the honor of being the first UTSA student to be awarded Leadership Honors. Malone enjoys her time in the program because it is fast-paced and she is constantly learning.

According to senior English major Nicole Robbins, the most exciting and memorable part of her experience so far is getting to go where the public cannot go.

“My conception of politics has completely changed. Most people think that politics is just Democrats and Republicans going at each other’s throats. In reality, there seems to be a lot of cooperation, negotiation and compromise,” Robbins said.

Senior political science Major Kimberly Graves, has found her experience in the program to be a constant learning experience.

“I’ve been elated and humbled by the experience,” Graves said.