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“Doing to Learn” Under the Capitol Dome

by Web on March 20, 2019

Located less than two miles from Millsaps College, the Mississippi State Capitol is the hub of statewide political activity during the legislative session, held the first three months of every year (and the first four months of each year following a general election). For the third year in a row, legislators are being supported in their debates, policy development, and decision-making by a group of Millsaps College students.

Through a partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi, four Millsaps students are working in the 2019 session as Legislative Fellows, experiencing firsthand the inner workings of state government. Myra Cunningham, a senior from Pascagoula; Sara Sabbagh, a junior from Diamondhead; Kayleigh Aicklen, a senior from Bay St. Louis; and A.K. Singleton, a junior from Destrehan, La., are spending time in committee hearings, researching policy, and supporting the work of lawmakers and political organizations.

Dr. Nathan Shrader, assistant professor of political science at Millsaps, helps direct the fellowship program.

“This program is one of many ways that Millsaps provides students with the opportunity to participate in the art of politics in a hands-on fashion,” said Shrader. “Unlike some programs of this nature that can be observational, ours is designed to provide the students with a unique view of how state government and politics operates from behind the scenes.”

Students are selected for the fellowship through a competitive application process managed each fall by the political science department at Millsaps. The program is open to junior and senior women with a 3.0 GPA or higher, and participants receive a stipend of $2,000 during the course of the semester.

In this current session, Singleton, Cunningham, and Sabbagh are all working with the Mississippi Democratic Caucus. Their work ranges from attending committee meetings to researching legislation. “What really keeps this work interesting is when walking through the Capitol doors, a lot of times you really don't know what you're going to be tasked with until you receive an urgent "ASAP" text message from a legislator,” said Cunningham. “You can go from transcribing notes to critically comparing legislation for debate in a matter of minutes.”

Aicklen is working with Republican Senator Sally Doty of Brookhaven, who chairs the Energy Committee and serves as vice-chair of the Judiciary, Division A committee. She has worked closely with the senator on legislation and policy, and is developing a booklet highlighting Mississippi’s past and present female Senators.

“I have seen so many of the practices I have learned about in class – for example, the potential stress state elected officials face when representing their constituents, their party, and themselves all at once,” Aicklen said. “I have learned the importance of a good subject line in emails, and I have met so many influential people that I may need a business card holder.”

All four students are majoring in political science and working to achieve their own specific career goals.

“I plan to go to graduate school for International Relations right after Millsaps, and I aim to hopefully become a top White House advisor for foreign affairs,” said Sabbagh. “Eventually, I would like to become a diplomat for the United States and work on bettering both our global reputation as a nation and our international relationships.” 

Cunningham plans to attend law school after graduation from Millsaps. Aicklen is considering the Mississippi Teacher Corps, and Singleton is looking toward a career in advocacy as a lawyer, lobbyist, or legislator.

The relationship between Millsaps and the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi is another example of how students engage in professional experiences outside of the classroom.

We are proud of our partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi and all who make this program possible,” Shrader said. “Together, we are making meaningful strides that will help cultivate the next generation of leaders for the Magnolia State.”