Last year, USD students held 12 of 22 internship positions with the state legislature, as well as the only position with the Governor’s Office. This year, Coyote representation increased in the state’s capitol, with USD students holding 13 legislative positions, as well as the only positions with the governor and the secretary of state.

"I am very proud of our USD students for securing so many of these internships during the legislative session," said Eric Jepsen, Ph.D., professor of political science. "Our students with these internships in previous years had incredibly valuable experiences that helped shape their educational and professional goals. I'm grateful that the legislature has prioritized having one of the most impactful and resourced legislative internship programs in the country."

The student interns will work in Pierre for the duration of the legislative session, starting on the second Tuesday of January (Jan. 9) through the final day of session (March 7). Some students return for “Veto Day” on Monday, March 25, where the legislature reconsiders any bills the governor vetoed.

While in Pierre, students are responsible for a variety of tasks, including tracking bills, monitoring bills and testimonies in committee, helping legislators craft special bills of commendation and other duties as assigned, depending on their assignment.

Because the South Dakota Legislature is a part-time legislature, state legislators utilize interns instead of traditional full-time staff members. Therefore, student interns benefit from an intensive hands-on experience and play a crucial role in the legislative process.

Jordan Christensen, a junior majoring in political science and criminal justice, is serving as the Senate intern on the Appropriations Committee under Sen. Jean Hunhoff. Christensen’s main responsibilities include attending committee meetings and taking notes for further discussion, compiling budget summaries, researching legislation and bills, and attending meetings to learn about current legislation. All these duties, Christensen said, are providing her with insight into different areas of government.

“I think you can learn a lot in classes about state government and this process in general, but nothing compares to being a part of the legislative session firsthand,” said Christensen. “I have already gained a whole new understanding of this process, as well as a far greater appreciation for our legislators and all the work they put in during this time.

“There really are a million things going on at once, and it is really cool to get to be behind the scenes on these conversations and decisions because it definitely cannot be fully understood from a classroom setting,” she continued.

As a student in the Department of Political Science, Christensen said she recognized the value of this internship program and how effective the department is in placing students in legislative positions.

“Most of the other interns here are USD students, and I know a lot of other classmates I’ve had have done this internship previously,” Christensen explained. “USD does a great job of providing resources for students to learn more about these opportunities like informational sessions, connections to previous interns and alumni, and more, and they offer flexible class schedules so we can continue to further our education and do this internship at the same time.”

Elisabeth Hart, a sophomore majoring in political science and legal studies, is interning for the speaker pro tempore of the House, Rep. Mike Stevens ’78, and the House Education and House Judiciary Committees. Hart’s duties include coordinating all remote testimony and written testimony for bills in both her committees, researching for bill drafting, reading and annotating upcoming bills, writing articles for her legislator and meeting different people from organizations that visit the capitol.

For Hart, one of the most unique aspects of her internship experience has been the ability to play a hands-on role in the state’s legislative process.  

“The opportunity to be helping research and draft bills, to be a part of closed-door meetings, and to get to experience every part of the legislative process at 19 years old has been an invaluable experience,” said Hart.

Through her internship, Hart has had the opportunity to work with many of the state’s most prominent figures, including South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Steven R. Jensen ’88, J.D., and Attorney General Marty Jackley '95, J.D. Hart said she has also enjoyed working alongside numerous USD alumni.

“There are far too many USD alumni to even name, but I can tell you that being a part of the ‘Yote’ community is such a valuable asset, especially being in a new environment such as the legislature,” said Hart. “If you took a poll of all the lawyers involved in our legislature, I would estimate that almost 90% of them went to USD for undergraduate degrees or for law school.

“The presence of USD alumni is strong in our legislature, and it is exciting to be a part of the community that is making a difference in our state,” Hart continued.

In addition to Christensen and Hart, the following USD students are serving the legislature during the 2024 session.

  • Joshua Chase, Master of Public Administration
  • Sarah Cox, criminal justice, English
  • Finiasi Epapy, political science
  • Samantha Gavette, political science
  • Allison Gross, political science, sustainability
  • Marcus Hluchy, law
  • Marissa Kjorness, political science
  • Ubah Mahamed, criminal justice
  • Rachel Overstreet, political science, philosophy
  • Charles Streeter, political science, psychology
  • Michael Wagenaar, political science

Evan Sippel, a junior majoring in political science and history, is interning for Secretary of State Monae Johnson, and Ajaye Hicks, a junior majoring in addiction counseling and prevention, is interning for Gov. Kristi Noem.  

"These internships allow our students to experience firsthand how a citizen legislature of representatives and senators from across South Dakota come together for a little over two months to develop consequential policies for our state and communities," said Jepsen. "The interns support the legislature's deliberations, debates and crafting of legislation, all while honing their research, writing, and public speaking skills."

Press Contact
Hanna DeLange
Contact Email
Contact Website website