This series highlights the internships of three Walla Walla University social work majors during the 2017-18 academic year. (Part one of three.)
What do you get when you cross social work and senate? Ask Allison Banks, a senior social work major who spent winter quarter in Olympia, Washington, interning for Sen. Rebecca Saldaña. Banks, who was senate parliamentarian last year for the Associated Students of Walla Walla University, is one of about 70 students from across the state that were admitted to the State of Washington Legislative Internship Program this year. The annual program allows ambitious college students to assist legislators and learn about lawmaking for the duration of the legislative session.
In a sea of political science majors, Banks was the only intern majoring in social work. “I viewed my major as a weakness going into this,” Banks said. “When you look around and you're the minority major, it's difficult not to think ‘This program was designed for a different group of students.’” Despite some initial doubts, Banks quickly learned that she was right where she belonged.
On her first day of work, Banks looked through the bills that Saldaña was sponsoring. The first bill she saw called for increased healthcare benefits for Washington residents from the Marshall Islands, the Federation of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau. Banks served as a student missionary in Palau three years ago, and two of her former students now live in Washington state, making this a very personal topic. “I had this moment where I just froze. … I thought, ‘There's no way that I'm coming into this new office and the first thing I read is about Palau,’” Banks recalled. “How is it possible that I got matched with the one senator who prime sponsored a healthcare bill to protect Palauans?”
Settling in and standing out
In the weeks that followed, Banks made Saldaña’s office her home. Most days involved answering emails and phone calls, but, she added, “the flow of that can vary widely.” A day at a senator’s office might start out slow, but if a bill drops and constituents have questions, the staff goes into overdrive to do research and give informed responses. “You'll come into work and you have no idea what you're going to be an expert on by the end of the day.”
Aside from the daily office work, Banks sometimes paged on the Senate floor, allowing her to witness lawmaking up close. She was impressed by the passion of the state senators and noted that they restored her hope in government.
Throughout the term, Banks and the other interns also attended seminars and participated in mock committee and floor-debate exercises. The committee and floor-debate simulations offered each intern the chance to role-play and walk through the full, bipartisan legislative process. Everything that legislators do for real, the interns did for fake, Banks noted. But fake as it may have been, the issues discussed were serious. The interns did their part to come to each meeting prepared—especially Banks, who was elected co-chair for the Democratic Party caucus. In that role, Banks worked for more than two weeks to keep up the morale of about 40 peers as they debated on the Washington state House floor.
During the caucus exercise, Banks used her social work knowledge to analyze bills in a way that other students couldn’t. One of the most dense bills that the caucus debated dealt with issues regarding juvenile justice. "Even having minimal experience discussing topics like recidivism and reentry … made me one of the most informed people in the room,” Banks said. “Social work provided additional context when dealing with these issues, and my unique perspective made me better equipped to lead in conversations and problem-solving.”
Prior to the internship, Banks planned to take some time off after graduation to prepare for law school. Now that she’s seen the link between social work and lawmaking up close, she wants to pursue a master's in social work first. Banks encourages other WWU students to take a risk and apply for the same internship next year. “It’s reaffirmed my passion and commitment to the social work field,” she said, “as well as motivated me further to go to law school with the goal of returning to policy reform.”
Looking at a career, Banks likes the prospect of bringing social work and law together in a policy counsel position, helping legislators make informed policy decisions related to the human services field. Nothing is set in stone though, and when it comes down to it, she just wants to be a part of the lawmaking process. “There’s so much to work on.”
Posted March 15, 2018