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Released July 2, 2003

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG - They've seen Washington, D.C., politicians at work on television plenty of times, giving speeches, hearing testimony before Congressional committees and crafting legislation affecting public policy.

However, this summer five University of Southern Mississippi students - working as interns with members of Mississippi's congressional delegation - witnessed firsthand our nation's government in action.

Southern Miss students who participated in the internship program and the congressman or senator they worked for include Jamie Hasty of Pascagoula, Sen. Trent Lott; Chad Cornett of Brandon, Sen. Thad Cochran; Walt Cain of Madison, Rep. Chip Pickering and Justice O'Keefe of Ocean Springs and Molly Malone of Atmore, Ala., Rep. Gene Taylor.

"I've really enjoyed the experience," said Cornett, who is the Southern Miss Student Government Association attorney general. Cornett has a variety of duties in Cochran's office, including special projects that have involved preparation of briefings for Cochran on such issues as European Union defense structure and national disclosure policy. Cornett also worked with constituent services, helping with capitol tours and speaking to student groups.

He said the legislative process in Washington takes time and patience. "Some people have this idea that politics is quick and just involves making some speeches, but it's amazing to see that (Congress) is still working on issues that began three or four years ago."

Cain said he has gained a better understanding of the political process by seeing it from the inside. He has been able to share his knowledge with constituents from Mississippi who visit Washington and want to know more about how government functions. "I've learned so much that I wouldn't have otherwise," Cain said. "I'm really thankful for the opportunity."

Southern Miss' vice president for research and planning, Dr. Angie Dvorak, said the internship program also helps students learn how important federal funds are in supporting research at Southern Miss, and how priority funding allocation is determined in the congressional committees process.

"External funding (for research) is predominantly federally generated, and these students (as congressional interns) will understand how our external dollars come into being," Dvorak said.

An international relations major at Southern Miss, Cain said he would like to return to Washington to attend graduate school and work on an international issues committee for a congressman or senator.

Wayne Weidi, chief of staff for Taylor, praised the work of O'Keefe and Malone. "They were a real asset to us," he said. "They represented Southern Miss well."

Weidi said the internship program not only gives participants a chance to learn more about politics but to make contacts and take in all the points of interest in Washington.

"They get to meet so many people and interact with other students from all over the country and make new friends," he said.

Hasty said working in Lott's office has helped her understand issues concerning the legislative process, including recent hearings held by the rules committee addressing the Senate filibuster rule, the rule on "holds" on legislation before the Senate, and unauthorized earmarks on appropriations bills. "These are issues that I never really understood until now," she said.

"The chance to intern on Capitol Hill can be transformational for students," said Dr. Joe Paul, vice president for student affairs at Southern Miss. "It gives them a deeper appreciation for the wonder that is our democracy. Because of this experience, many of them will enjoy careers in public service. Plus, it's great for Southern Miss because our students are our best advertisement. We're very proud of them."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM