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Tea Area High School graduate enjoys time at Capitol as Legislative Intern

University of South Dakota students took up a significant presence in the South Dakota State Capitol this past legislative session, holding 12 out of 22 internship positions with the state legislature. Among them was Taylor Van Emmerik, a freshman double majoring in Economics and Political Science at the University of South Dakota.

“I think this is a real testament to the aptitude, diligence and aspirations of our students,” said Eric Jepsen, Ph.D., coordinator of undergraduate studies and associate professor in the Department of Political Science at USD. “They are committed to public service and playing a role in the very hard work on the part of legislators, legislative staffers and the executive branch that goes into each legislative session.”

Van Emmerik, a 2022 Tea Area High School graduate, has set a goal to end up being a business attorney with a MBA and JD. When the opportunity to be an intern with the South Dakota State Legislature arose he knew it was one he couldn’t pass up.

“As far as my career goes, I feel that this internship is going to be a real resume booster, give me plenty of recommendations into the future, and the knowledge to continue furthering my education anyway I can,” said Van Emmerik. “I definitely know way more about how a bill becomes a law than I did before the internship.”

The opportunity came about through a combination of support systems Van Emmerik has gained throughout his life.

“Different clubs and organizations on campus at USD gave out notifications about special opportunities like this, additionally I had some friends who had previously done it recommended it to me, and my boss at Sioux Falls Thunder Road, Senator Al Novstrup, is a senator in the legislature,” said Van Emmerik. “I knew that this internship was something I was wanting to do sometime in my college career, but I wasn’t aware that it would be this early on until these people helped show me it could be a reality.”

The University of South Dakota also grants Political Science Majors access to Farber Funds to help with expenses during a learning opportunity like this.

“All of these things got me involved and really helped me make this internship a reality,” said Van Emmerik. “I think often times we forget how much our state legislature affects our day to day life. In my opinion some of the decisions made at the state level could be more important than decisions coming out Washington D.C. If I am wanting to get a well rounded education in our state’s legal system, it is important that I first understand how these laws and procedures were created.”

Taking on an internship of this nature early on in his college career was a big leap, as Van Emmerik had to balance a rigorous online course load alongside a forty-hour work week, while also taking a break from all the social events on campus.

“This year’s intern class was one of the youngest that our state has seen in its history. Yet it is exactly this sort of experience that will help us better understand everything that we are learning about in the future,” said Van Emmerik.

Van Emmerik served in the Joint Committee on Appropriations, which allowed him to learn more about how the state operates and makes decisions than he would have in any other capacity.

“I was put in a position to summarize what went on in appropriations and be able to convey that to other Senators correctly and where I was able to talk and make relationships with department heads who make everything happen,” said Van Emmerik. “I served during one of South Dakota’s most historic sessions where I got to learn about procedure and the true issues facing South Dakota. Not to mention the friends I made in both legislators and other interns.”

Van Emmerik’s typical day at the Capitol began at 7 a.m. and involved heading straight to the Joint Appropriations room, where he would have briefings or chamber meetings in the morning to discuss priorities.

“Then Joint Appropriations would meet and I would be given tasks from any legislator on the committee,” said Van Emmerik.

Some tasks included writing summary documents to present at Caucus, running Microsoft Teams for the committee, filtering through committee email, contacting department heads about certain bills, providing research about certain issues and how they were previously dealt with, printing handouts, etc.

“Interns are the only partisan staff in the capitol and we play a vital role helping make sure that legislators can get all their work done in the forty day session,” said Van Emmerik. “We follow our legislators into Caucus meetings. We sit with them on the floor. We are there to serve the legislators in anyway we can, even if that means not leaving the capitol until 9 p.m.”

Despite some stressful days, Van Emmerik found it worthwhile to be able to serve South Dakota by serving the legislators the people elected.

The internship opportunity also allowed Van Emmerik the chance to gain valuable take aways.

“At the beginning of my internship I had no clue what an FTE was, and by the second week I was working with it non stop during budget briefings,” said Van Emmerik. “Additionally I’ve learned that connections and relationships really are what build careers. That piece of paper that the university will hand me is great and all, but it will be the people I made connections with and saw me work hard that will really help me land jobs.”


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