Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, tried to raise a concern about a piece of legislation during a committee meeting on Capitol Hill for a controversial bill when the bill sponsor was unable to answer her question.
Poulson’s intern, BYU senior Alexander Oldroyd, searched the web and texted the information to Poulson, who read the answer to the entire committee. The bill died.
Experiences like this may seem out of the ordinary for most students, but Oldroyd contributed to the legislative process almost daily during the 2019 legislative session.
Oldroyd, 25, is a Ballard Scholar English major from Austin, Texas. He interned at the Utah State Legislature this semester during the seven-week-long general legislative session.
Oldroyd did not originally plan to enter the political arena; in fact, he started out at BYU as a music major. It was not until his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nicaragua that he changed his mind.
“I realized I had many more talents and interests than music,” Oldroyd said. “Plus, the extreme poverty I saw caused me to consider that maybe the world needed more from me than just to be a performer or composer.”
He switched his major to English, and his subsequent studies led him to discover new interests and untapped potential for public service.
Oldroyd is one-fourth Native Hawaiian. His English studies introduced him to scholarship and history directly related to his Hawaiian heritage and his family’s shared connections with Utah’s Native American communities. While taking a few courses through the BYU Ballard Center for Economic Self Reliance, he realized he wanted to work in the social sector.
Oldroyd completed several internships, one of which included working on a business incubator with the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation to serve refugees in England. Subsequently, he worked for a local grant-writing consulting business and a nonprofit organization that focuses on Native Americans.
“Through all of these different opportunities and experiences, I realized that I want to go into the field of indigenous development, into a career that is at the intersection of business, government and nonprofit work,” Oldroyd said.
Oldroyd recently applied to graduate programs in indigenous studies and development. As his undergraduate graduation approached, he decided the Utah State Legislature Internship Program could give him a step-up on his competition.
“I felt that the USL internship could help give me a front-row seat to legislative advocacy and to the legislative and policymaking process — something I expect will help me become a better development professional,” he said.
According to BYU political science internship advisor Scott Dunaway, approximately 25 to 35 BYU students apply for the Utah State Legislature Internship Program each year, and the number of students accepted depends on the number of spots given to the school by the Legislature. Usually, about 27 students are accepted.
The application includes letters of recommendation, a short essay, biographical information and transcripts. Applicants must be upperclassmen, and Dunaway said the program typically looks for students with a 3.0 GPA, but the requirements vary based on the competition.
No background in politics or the legislative process is required to apply, and students of all majors are welcome. Accepted students complete an intensive training course in January before the beginning of the session to help them understand how Utah’s legislative process works.
“We’re really mostly interested in students who just have good skills and have an interest in getting involved in that process,” Dunaway said.
Interns must come equipped with good writing skills, work ethic and interpersonal skills.
“It was easy to select recommenders since I already had them working on my grad school application letters,” he said. “My interview was fairly straightforward, and I was accepted without much to-do.”
Oldroyd was assigned to work with Poulson, a member of the Native American Liaison Committee and a BYU English alumna. This session marked the first time in 11 years that Poulson had an intern from BYU.
“She’s happy because she wants to show people that Democrats can come out of BYU too,” Oldroyd said.
There were five BYU students in the Democratic caucus this year, more than there had been in a long time according to Oldroyd, who said BYU students are not usually well-represented in the minority caucuses.
However, the interns are a nonpartisan staff. Although students may put their political preferences on their application, there is no guarantee they will be placed with a like-minded legislator. Oldroyd applied as politically independent and said this experience “has really crystallized” his own political views.
Utah’s 2019 Legislature began Jan. 28. During a normal day during the session, Oldroyd got up at 5 a.m. and took the train to Salt Lake City, then spent 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. — or later — at the Capitol.
For Oldroyd, the busy schedule was the hardest part. He didn’t spend more than four hours with his wife each day.
According to Oldroyd, he spent 20 percent of his time working on Poulson’s weekly newsletter and 20 percent of his time observing debates, hearings and meetings. Another 15 percent was spent tracking bills and the positions of interest groups on bills, 10 percent in communication with interest groups and constituents and 10 percent spent printing bills and other pertinent documents for the day. He also led tours and did policy research.
Oldroyd said another challenge was knowing what to say to lobbyists and constituents. Poulson ran a controversial GPS tracking bill this session, Oldroyd said, which received opposition from various groups.
“We’ve had people use some pretty underhanded tactics to try and block the bill or get to Rep. Poulson,” Oldroyd said. “It’s been interesting to navigate that process.”
The 2019 legislative session and Oldroyd’s internship experience concluded March 14. He will start graduate school in the fall.
“My next step will hopefully be to apply what I learned in the Utah Legislature to further Native American causes at the national level,” Oldroyd said. “I think my long-term dream is to work for or start my own indigenous-focused social venture.”
Adam Brown, the BYU professor who trains and mentors the Utah State Legislature Internship Program participants, said the internship can open doors for all students, no matter their field of study.
“Internships aren’t just about furthering a future career, though this is an experience that definitely prepares students for the professional world,” Brown said. “This internship, in particular, prepares students to be engaged citizens.”
Oldroyd said his time as an intern solidified his desire to work for indigenous peoples in America. He said he was surprised at how underrepresented Native Americans are in Utah.
He said he has learned legislators are good people trying to do what they think is best for the public, and that most lobbyists are also good people — contrary to stereotypes — and that one should always set an alarm if planning to fall asleep on the train.
As the session neared its close, Oldroyd said the internship made him more optimistic about politics after seeing how the political system distributes power among diverse people and interests.
“This is the first experience where I’ve stepped into the arena, and the experience has made me want to be more active in the future,” Oldroyd said.