The highly competitive, paid internship program began in 1989 and has been open almost exclusively to students from UC Davis and California State University, Sacramento. This year, the program widened to include UC Merced students — who quickly made an impression.
Brian Ebbert, assistant chief clerk/parliamentarian for the California State Assembly, said officials originally intended to give one of the five fulltime slots to a UC Merced student.
“But we were so impressed with the students, two were chosen,” he said.
McKenzie, a management major from Salinas who plans to attend law school, started in February as the desk clerk in the Assembly chamber. She sits at the long desk in front of the Assembly speaker, and her duties include helping process legislation, amendments and bill introductions.
McKenzie counts amending bills as her favorite task so far. She said she’s enjoyed learning the specialized language used in bills, networking with people in Sacramento and meeting Assembly members who are lawyers.
She thinks the internship is good preparation for the next phase of her academic life.
“UC Merced is such a small school, and it’s good to have something under my belt when I apply for law school,” she said.
Nawabzada, an economics major and political science minor from Castro Valley, started his internship as other students headed out to Spring Break. He works in the chief clerk’s office as an amending clerk, which has him proofreading amendments, amending bills and drafting mock-ups of bills amended by the Assembly.
Nawabzada, who also plans to attend law school, thought the internship would help prepare him for that step.
“I figured working on actual legislation gives me experience and a push in the right direction,” he said.
Daryl Fitzgerald, assistant director of corporate relations in UC Merced’s Career Services, credited visiting Professor Mark Harris with making the first campus connection to the chief clerk’s internship program.
From there, Career Services  staff worked with the chief clerk’s office and helped recruit students for what they saw as an outstanding, nonpartisan opportunity. Ninety or so students came to the informational meeting on campus.
“The room was just about at full capacity,” Fitzgerald said.
Ebbert said the internships last about six months. In addition to the work, student interns also take part in behind-the-scenes tours and hear from guest speakers such as Assembly members or other legislators.
Nawabzada said he feels honored to be one of the first two interns selected from UC Merced. He hasn’t thought much about a political career, but acknowledges that as a possibility. McKenzie also hasn’t closed the door on the idea.
Both students hope to graduate in Fall 2013, and say they’ve enjoyed their UC Merced experience. Nawabzada said he and his dad were quickly sold on UC Merced’s newness and small size.
“It seemed like a really tight-knit community,” he said.
McKenzie originally wanted to attend a more-established UC campus. But now, she talks about her great relationships with professors and the opportunities she’s had — such as the Assembly internship program. UC Merced has been a good fit, she said.
“I didn’t think I would like it as much as I do,” McKenzie said. “It ended up being a really good choice for me.”