Shauna Miller begins her routine at the Texas Capitol at 7 a.m. sharp, organizing more than 400 appropriation documents for state Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr., preparing to brief him about each agency requesting money.
Miller, 22, is part of the first flock of legislative interns from the University of Texas-Pan American who will spend their spring semester in Austin working for Rio Grande Valley representatives.
“I honestly expected to just kind of be a receptionist and to be an intern just running errands,” she said. “But I was assigned a really important job and I’m enjoying it a lot.”
Five state representatives began housing the UTPA interns in January including Muñoz, D-Mission, state Reps. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Oscar Longoria Jr., D-La Joya, Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, and Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen.
The internship program came after Canales proposed to mimic state Sen. Rodney Ellis’ Texas Legislative Internship Program, which has been around for 35 years — except to make it exclusively for Valley students.
“When I found out that my chief of staff had been an intern in the TLIP program, I realized the program is very important,” Canales said.
Curtis Smith, his chief of staff, said he credits his job to that internship opportunity and began working with Canales to develop a similar program, hoping to create a long-term path to Austin.
Canales last fall pitched the idea to UT-RGV President Guy Bailey, former state Rep. Veronica Gonzales, who is now the school’s vice president for government and community relations, and UTPA’s Interim President Havidan Rodriguez. The group then began working toward making this the first legislative internship for Valley students.
The first step was to find funding for the interns to work full time in Austin during the entire spring semester, which coincides with the legislative session. Gonzales said they then reached out to UTPA Foundation’s board members, who agreed to grant each qualifying student an $8,000 stipend to cover rent and expenses.