Carter seeing state government from the inside
Second from FPU to win fellowship
This article, written by Jaime Huss, was originally published in Pacific, November 2008.
An educator in the making, Leigh Carter (BA' 07) is getting a lesson of a lifetime. Her classroom: the State Capitol.
Carter was among 18 participants in the 2007-2008 class of the Jesse Marvin Unruh Assembly Fellowship Program (California State Assembly Fellowship Program), one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious legislative fellowships. Those who have been shaped by this fellowship include members of Congress and the State Legislature, among other notables.
The 11-month course gives participants first-hand experience in public policy development. Fellows work full time in an Assembly member's office or on a policy committee, earning 12 graduate units in government or public policy and administration from California State University, Sacramento.
Competition to win a seat in the program, which includes opportunities in legislative, executive and judicial offices, was intense. Carter, a social science secondary teaching graduate, was among 1,200 applicants; only 5 percent were chosen.
Carter heard about the program through Richard Unruh, political science faculty, and jumped at the opportunity to learn about education policy making from the ground up. Following her acceptance, Carter's opportunities only grew. After interviewing with 17 offices, she chose to work for Assemblyman Alan Nakanishi (R-Lodi) because of his membership in the education committee and his ties to the Valley. Serving under Assemblyman Nakanishi, Carter's days were spent researching bills, drafting legislation, writing speeches and press releases and meeting with constituents.
"Our fellows do real, substantive work," Jeff Hale, Nakanishi's chief of staff, said. "We know our fellows have gone through a rigorous screening process, and they're the cream of the crop."
By fellowship's end in September 2008, Carter had become resident expert on education in Nakanishi's office and was hired full time. During her months at the Capitol, she had six of her bills reach the governor's desk, including three that were signed.
Lessons for Carter have also translated beyond preparing for being in the classroom one day. "I've learned to be a good citizen and advocate, and learned how to get my voice heard," she said.
Richard Unruh sees the big-picture lessons, as well. "It's a significant growing experience, being thrust into the world of fast-paced action," he said. "You're given the same responsibilities as hired staff and expected to be a professional."
Carter is the second alumna to be part of the program. "It's a real credit to FPU that our students have been selected for this program, competing with students from universities and colleges throughout the state," Unruh said. "We prepare students to succeed, compete and be selected."
With Assemblyman Nakanishi's term finishing at year's end, Carter's future at the Capitol is uncertain. But she is hopeful that more learning opportunities in Sacramento are ahead.
"The fellowship prepares you so well...but it would be good to stay and learn more." Carter said.