By Kenya Godette

Each year, Old Dominion University’s Governmental Relations Office facilitates the General Assembly Internship program where selected students work hand-in-hand with Virginia state legislators and their staff during session months.

Throughout the internship experience, students strengthen their political knowledge and deepen their understanding of Virginia's General Assembly. The internship is full-time, paid and participants are housed in Richmond for the duration of the program.

“ODU’s General Assembly Internship Program offers students the unique opportunity to support the inner workings of our state government here in the Commonwealth,” said Stephanie Harron, executive assistant for strategic operations and governmental relations.

“Every year, the diverse cohort of student interns continues to shine as representatives of the Monarch community by bringing forth their respective skill sets, gaining expertise in state government, growing their professional network and exploring pathways for future endeavors post-graduation. It’s such an awesome experience and I encourage all interested students to consider applying for next year’s program.”

This year, six students represented the University as legislative interns during the 60-day, 2024 Session of the General Assembly.

At the conclusion of the program, interns answered a few questions about what they learned, how they surmounted challenging moments and what advice they’d give to the next ODU legislative intern cohort.

Individuals standing together smiling

(From left) ODU President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., La’Tisa Ward, Jeffrey Flowers (back), Aysha Vaughan, Evan White (back), Jaden Garvin and Christopher Wheeler.

The 2024 interns, along with some of their reflections, are:

Jeffrey Flowers, Criminal Justice major, Senior

Assigned to: Sens. Angelia Williams Graves and L. Louise Lucas

When I first enrolled at ODU, I didn’t see myself in politics. I took an interest in it through the criminal justice classes I was taking and decided to minor in political science. That is when I found out about ODU’s General Assembly internship program and the opportunity to connect with individuals in our state government.

Now, post-graduation, I want to work as a magistrate. This internship has prepared me by exposing me to different departments in the Virginia government and by helping me build connections with people who can help me reach my goals.

One thing that challenged me during my internship was how it forced me to get out of my comfort zone. I had to meet people and introduce myself when I typically wouldn’t. This built my confidence in talking to new people when I would usually be nervous to do that!

Jaden Garvin, Public Health major, Senior

Assigned to: Dels. Marcia “Cia” Price and C.E. “Cliff” Hayes Jr.

The most surprising thing I learned during my internship is that senate and delegate positions are considered part-time and that many of them have full-time jobs. Since I was working 40 hours a week during this program, I also had to learn to balance my personal life, school and the internship. This experience taught me good time management skills and that even when I'm drained from work, the world continues to go on and so should I.

My plan after graduation is to go to dental school and become an oral surgeon. This internship helped a lot because I was able to meet Sen. Todd Pillion, who is a dentist in Abingdon, Virginia, and he gave me advice for when I apply.

My advice to future ODU interns is that you should not be deterred if you don't major in political science. This internship helps you meet people from all over Virginia who are in various fields and can help advance your future career even if it’s not related to politics.

Man and woman talking with each other

Chief of Staff William 'Will' Smith (left) of Senator L. Louise Lucas' office, engages in conversation with ODU junior intern Aysha Vaughan during a Meet and Greet Session with legislators and staff held at the Broderick Dining Commons Board Room.

Aysha Vaughan, Sociology major, Children’s Rights minor, Junior

Assigned to: Dels. Phil Hernandez and Kelly Convirs-Fowler and Sen. Bill DeSteph

What challenged me the most during this internship was feeling inadequate for the job. Since I don’t have much experience, I didn’t know if people would trust me to do the work, but I learned so much from this experience that it built up my confidence.

I never thought opportunities like this were available, but I appreciate Stephanie Harron and ODU so much for providing opportunities like these for students.

The most surprising thing I learned was how laid back and fun the delegates and senators are. I expected them to be firm, but everyone was extremely friendly. I feel so much more connected and involved in state legislation and strengthening my connection to legislation has enhanced my understanding of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

La’Tisa Ward, Political Science major, Communications minor, Senior

Assigned to: Sen. Aaron Rouse and Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler

The number of opportunities to expand your professional and personal network within Virginia state politics, policy and legislation surprised me the most. You never knew who you’d meet in the elevator while running an errand, or who you may run into on your way to lunch. It was super cool chatting in the elevator with the president pro tempore of the State Senate or in the tunnel with the speaker of the House. The business cards provided by Stephanie Harron, our “chief of ODU interns,” were my most used accessories!

Three individuals stand together smiling

(From left) First Lady Suzanne S. Youngkin, ODU Intern La’Tisa Ward, and Governor Glenn Youngkin during a legislative reception held at the Library of Virginia.

During this internship I had the opportunity to use and enhance my analytical, technical and creative skills as I wrote, crafted and designed newsletters, websites and social media posts for both Sen. Rouse and Del. Convirs-Fowler.

I now have a greater understanding of our state budget and the process of how bills are passed or killed. Some of these bills affect ODU, so it’s important for representatives to advocate for advancements, innovation and other matters that may concern the University and its students and faculty.

Christopher Wheeler, Political Science major, Sophmore

Assigned to: Dels. Barry D. Knight and Jay A. Leftwich Jr.

After I graduate, I plan on attending law school and interning for Del. Leftwich. Outside of the General Assembly, Del. Leftwich is a practicing attorney and working with him helped me gain insight into how he works effectively while working in his political position. Being able to talk with him personally about law school and my future ambitions, given his experience, was valuable.
When I enrolled at ODU, I had not even considered this being an opportunity—much less one I would participate in. I had enrolled as a Mechanical Engineering major so government and politics was not on my bingo card, but I've always been interested in government, politics and debate ever since I was a little kid. So, after switching majors to pursue my more genuine passion, I knew this internship was something I had to look into. 
I learned and grew in so many ways, it's hard to talk about just one. While it was a challenge at first, my efforts to network at receptions paid dividends. I not only made many new connections but it built my confidence and conversation skills, too!
Evan White also participated in the internship program. Evan is a sophomore Political Science major and was assigned to Sen. Mamie E. Locke and Del. Alex Q. Askew.