Interview with Claire A Bunch about the Capital Fellows Prog

by | July 13, 2010

The Capital Fellows Program is a distinctive, yearlong program that gives college graduates an in-depth look into the governance of the State of California. Fellows act as assistants to senior executive branch staff, judicial administration officials, members of the California Assembly and Senate, legislative committees and other top-ranking state government officials. We asked Claire A. Bunch to tell us more about the program, future career opportunities, and the impact of California's budget crisis.

Capital Fellows Programs internsVault: Tell me about the Capital Fellows Programs.

Claire Bunch: Sponsored by the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento...Capital Fellows Programs are an outstanding opportunity for college graduates to engage in public service, prepare for a future career and gain experience under a seasoned mentor. 18 Assembly Fellows, 18 Executive Fellows, 18 Senate Fellows and 10 Judicial Administration Fellows are selected annually to work 10 to 11 months as full-time staff members in the California State Assembly, Senate, Executive Branch or within the California Court System.

Vault: What training and orientation do fellows undergo?

CB: The fellowships begin with an orientation that provides a working knowledge of state government structure and the legislative process....Assembly, Executive and Senate Fellows participate in a five- to six-week orientation and conduct interviews with potential placement offices prior to starting work in their offices. Judicial Administration Fellows attend a one-week general orientation before reporting to their placement offices.

The programs also include academic seminars and fellows earn graduate credits in government or public policy and administration from Sacramento State. Assembly, Executive and Senate Fellows have their academic seminars weekly and Judicial Administration Fellows meet monthly in different court venues.

Vault: I know mentoring is a big part of the Capital Fellows Programs. Can you tell me more about the relationship between mentors and fellows and how mentoring is integrated into the programs?

CB: The Capital Fellows Programs consider mentoring so important that we refuse to place a fellow in an office unless the office designates an experienced staffer as the fellow's mentor. Mentors insure fellows are given substantive assignments and are fully integrated into the office staff. Mentors teach fellows the skills needed to complete assignments, advise them on professional development and behavior, counsel them on career choices and act as their immediate supervisors in the placement.

Vault: The Capital Fellows Programs are run through the California State University, Sacramento, Center for California Studies and all fellows participate in graduate seminars. What role does the seminar play in each program?

CB: The seminar is … part of what makes the Capital Fellows Programs so special….The curriculum, readings and assignments are equivalent to any university graduate level program....As important, the seminar permits fellows to step away from their day-to-day work and think about what they are experiencing.

Vault: How have the Capital Fellows Programs changed over time? Particularly over the past few years?

CB: The programs are continuingly changing and evolving as California state government changes and evolves. Collectively, the programs are far more coordinated and integrated. In the early years, each program was run independently with little interaction among the fellows. Senate Fellows, for example, could spend their entire fellowship with no contact with an Executive Fellow. Today, the four programs that make up the Capital Fellows Programs regularly hold joint activities, there is a joint alumni organization, and post-fellowship career opportunities are broader.

California has the strictest legislative term limits in the United States (life-time ban after six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate). A consequence of this is rapid and extensive turnover among both legislators and legislative staff. As a result, career opportunities for former fellows have increased; advancement is rapid while current fellows are given more and more responsible assignments.

Vault: How has the California budget crisis affected the Capital Fellows Programs?

CB: The Capital Fellows Programs are funded through the state budget but the impact of California's recent budget difficulties has not been major. The number of fellows and the length of the fellowship have not been changed. The impact has been felt in the absence of increases in fellow stipends and the reduction of the number of graduate units earned by the fellows from 12 to six in 2010-2011 (this will result in a major budget savings but will have little impact on fellows as most graduate programs limited the number of transfer units). Fortunately, there is a widespread and bipartisan recognition that the Capital Fellows Programs are cost-effective and beneficial.

Vault: The recession has had an interesting affect on the number of interns who receive full-time offers from the company or organization. In the law industry, for example, the percentage of summer associates who receive full-time job offers has gone way down. Whereas in accounting and finance, it's gone up. Have you seen any change in the number of fellows being hired full-time?

CB: There has been a slight decrease in the number of fellows who stay in full-time positions either with the branch of government they served in as fellows or another government position. For example, 57 percent of the class of 2005-2006 stayed; 61 percent of the class of 2006-2007 stayed; 54 percent of the class of 2007-2008 stayed and 50 percent of the class of 2008-2009 stayed. The decrease in 2008-2009 was a function of both a higher than average number of fellows opting for professional (e.g., law) or graduate school as well as a hiring freeze in the state's executive branch.

Some view the fellowship as a 'between year,' with every intention to return to graduate or professional school the following year.

The Capital Fellows Program is one of Vault's 2010 Top 10 Internships. To learn more, read the full Vault California Fellows Programs internship profile.

Filed Under: Interviewing


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