A group of Santa Barbara City College students will soon get a behind-the-scenes look at California’s center of power politics. During a six-day visit to Sacramento next month, the students will “shadow” and interact with legislators at the Capitol.
The trip is at the core of a new, two-unit program created by SBCC’s Political Science Department and its chairman, Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar, a political science professor and director of Middle East Studies at the campus.
“I want them to see that what you study translates to real life,” Eskandari-Qajar explained. “We are in California, after all. This is the eighth-largest economy in the world. If it were a country, it would be an extremely powerful country on its own.”
The political leaders whom the students will meet include Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara; state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Los Angeles; and Michelle Rhee, CEO of the nonprofit StudentFirst, and her husband, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.
“Imagine a student being able to put down that they, for a week, met with the leader of the Assembly, the leader of the state Senate, the governor of California, the mayor of Sacramento,” Eskandari-Qajar said.
The total cost of the program is $600 for the trip, plus a two-unit enrollment fee, which varies depending on whether the student is registered as in-state, out-of-state or international. Besides including an “experience of a lifetime,” the fee covers accommodations, some meals and transportation.
The students leave by Amtrak train April 6. In Sacramento, they’ll get tours of City Hall and the Capitol, sit in on meetings, and have the legislators for themselves for lectures and Q&As.
Eskandari-Qajar said Williams, a former student of his, is an “immediate example of what political science can lead to.”
“I can show them, here is someone who was at City College at one point, went to local politics, and is now at the state level,” he said.
It is expected that the Sacramento Internship Program will be offered once every spring semester, Eskandari-Qajar said. Although it’s intended for political science students, applications are open to any. Twenty have been accepted into the program to date.
The trip aims to give the students an understanding of and quick training for internships and opportunities in the field, as well as providing them with a lasting entry on their résumés.
One student admitted into the program is 24-year-old Erika Sandberg, a political science major originally from Sweden. She said she is excited about the opportunity and is looking forward to meeting with prominent state officials.
“Can we just try one more handshake?” Sandberg said to her mother, recalling their last talk of her winter-break visit to Sweden.
Sandberg says she got interested in U.S. politics when she lived in San Francisco during the 2008 presidential election and “saw something there that (she) hasn’t seen in Swedish politics.”
“I think it’s important to see how it is working at both the local and the state level,” she said. “My dream ... would be to work with questions, probably around immigration and private prisons.”
The students will complete the program by writing a paper summarizing their experience.
Eskandari-Qajar talked about a similar program — and its success — that SBCC had in the late 1990s. The Washington, D.C.-focused program stretched over an entire semester and provided students with internships at places like the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court. At the end of one semester, he said, 10 out of 30 students were offered positions and ended up staying in Washington.
“Suddenly, from Santa Barbara, these students were at the centers of power,” he said. “They were in the White House ... they were in the State Department. They would see the secretary of state walk by, or, you know, the vice president just walked by.
“I’ve done this before. And, once the students are bitten by the bug, it’s going to be hard for them to not think of it and do something about it.”