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Drake student Iowa Capitol internship experiences 

Drake students have the opportunity to intern at the Iowa State Capitol. Students learn political communication during the experience. Photo by Sarah Fey | Staff Photographer

Just up highway I-235, seven minutes from Drake’s campus, lies Iowa’s iconic Capitol. Its gold dome separates it from any other state capitol and provides a royal hue in the middle of the great corn belt. The Iowa State Capitol is perfectly situated, overlooking and keeping an eye on downtown Des Moines. Built between 1871 and 1886, it has witnessed many scenes from Iowa’s history, even surviving a massive fire in 1904. 

Now, many Drake students have walked through the Capitol doors into a world of politically-centered internships.

Sophomore Clara Willette, a public relations student, works as a communications intern for the Iowa Senate in the Democratic caucus. 

“I knew that I wanted to work at the Capitol, and the legislative session is during the spring semester,” said Willette. 

Willette took the closeness of the Capitol to Drake’s campus into account when hunting for internship opportunities. 

“I don’t have a car here, and the Capitol is one of the only work establishments that you can get to by a bus. Because a lot of [public relation companies] are out in the suburbs, I don’t have access to that,” Willette said.  

Willette’s daily work load revolves around all methods of media, records debates and committee hearings. 

“I do the communication stuff,” Willette said. “So overall, that means social media, newsletters, anything that’s trying to get the work that the Senate Democrats do out there so that people know what it is that the Senate Democrats are trying to achieve.” 

Like Willette, sophomore Sophia Roberts is also a communications intern working for the Iowa House. Roberts has been able to get a sense of the feel for working in an office and all its basic functions while working in one of Iowa’s top landmarks.

“I’ve worked on Excel and written representative newsletters,” said Roberts. “I’ve done social media work. I’ve had to listen to videos of hearings and write captions for them and then give them to representatives to post on their Instagram, Facebook and other social media. I’ll make graphics, file bills, just a whole bunch of different stuff here and there, and I’ve also got to sit in on hearings too.”  

Both Willette and Roberts spoke about the assistance that Drake professor and House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst provided with Capitol opportunities, and how her political classes prepared them for their subsequent Capitol roles. 

“[Konfrst] sent me a couple of different options, and I applied for the one that I’m doing right now.Then I interviewed and got it,” Willette said. 

Roberts also said Konfrst “definitely knows the type of student I am and my work, which I think helps a lot, especially in a professional setting. We did a lot of writing about politics and understanding political communication.”  

Sophomore Carissa Phan is also working on the side of the house but as a clerk for Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, a Democrat representing Ames and surrounding areas.    

“I run her schedule,” said Phan. “Sometimes I’ll help prep her for comments on the floor that she has to make about the bill. I get to sit in on some of the subcommittees.”  

Since starting earlier this semester, Phan has settled in with clerking. 

“It was stressful at first because I missed the first two weeks of session because I was on a J-Term, but with the help of [Rep. Wessel-Kroeschell] and another clerk, I’ve eased into the process and now I love it. It’s like my favorite thing ever, sometimes I’ll stay extra just to work there because I love it so much,” Phan said.  

As a law, politics and society student, Phan was eager to begin work in Iowa politics as she stepped foot on campus. 

“Coming to Drake, I knew that I wanted to work at the Capitol; I just didn’t know how to get the job,” Phan said.  

As a general member of the Drake Democrats, Phan was able to get connections that allowed for her to hear about her clerking opportunity.  

  While the work that these interns do differs immensely, one thing remains the same with all of them: The workload at the Capitol changes daily. 

Depending on the need for the day, Phan handles whatever task is thrown at her.

“You never know if you’re gonna leave early or if you’re gonna stay late,” said Phan. “There was one day that I was there from 8:30 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. That’s how long [the] debate went.”  

Roberts spoke on how she can never go into her day at the Capitol with any expectations. 

“There isn’t really the same thing that happens each day,” Roberts said. “Even though I’m in the same setting, it’s always something different.” 

Phan and Roberts have also been able to provide their own unique opinions as young college students for their representatives.  

“I’ll do projects for Konfrst. I helped her with Instagram and her social media,” Roberts said. “I took clips of what she was talking about during one of her hearings. She posted it on her Instagram, and she told me, ‘This video has the most views on my Instagram.’”

Phan’s representative has even asked for her thoughts before debates. 

“[Rep. Wessel-Kroeschell] asks for my opinion,” Phan said. “She asked me to read all her comments before she talks about them on the floor. She’s like, ‘Is this good?’” 

Working at the Iowa Capitol has proved to be an excellent start for these interns who may want to someday work, live and breathe in even faster paced political cities. 

“I do like being in that political setting. I’ve always wanted to work in the [Iowa] Capitol,” Roberts said. “I’ve always had a fascination with Washington D.C., and that’s where I want to be later on.” 

Phan hopes to end up in the same location.

“[Working at the Capitol] has offered a really fresh perspective,” said Phan. “My dream is to end up working in D.C., and this is a good segway.”

Though Willette has no desire to become a politician, a political environment is not one she would shy away from. 

I wanted [a major] that you can do with politics, but you can also do with other things, and public relations does that,” said Willette. “You can do government public relations, you can do non-profit, you can do corporate. Political communication is super interesting to me; I would see myself doing stuff with that in the future.” 

These Capitol interns all heard the call of the Iowa State Capitol, and the gold domes will act as their stepping stones, adding a distinction to their resumes for further political work beyond graduation. 



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