One of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s largest ongoing projects is our endowment to Simmons College—Barbara Lee’s alma mater—which provides funding for an intern fellowship program to increase awareness of politics as a vocation for women.
Over 100 young women have benefited from this mentor-based internship program since it began in 2004. The program seeks to give young women exposure to and education in the nuts and bolts of Massachusetts political leadership through practical experience, thereby increasing the number of young women who enter the pipeline of political leadership.
Students study with Kristina Pechulis during the fall semester, taking the course “Politics Unplugged: How Things Work in Massachusetts.” The goal of the course is to prepare students for direct involvement in the political process, whether with legislators or non-government organizations involved in policy formation. The course gives an overview of the Massachusetts political system and organizes speakers and site visits throughout the semester. Students are required to give mock oral presentations to legislators and heads of NGOs and to use the internet as a research tool for tracking bills and laws. The class focuses on developing writing skills, including memo writing, public policy briefing papers, grant writing, and one major policy analysis or advocacy paper.
During the spring semester, selected students spend several days per week at their legislative internships. The internship program benefits both students and legislators. Students undertake major research projects, data analyses, and drafting of bills as well as general office tasks. In 2016, twelve women were awarded internships through the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Intern Fellowship Program.
Desirae Simmons can describe her internship with Massachusetts State Representative Gloria Fox in one word: active.
“She took me everywhere,” said Simmons. “She would call on me to speak in meetings, telling me, ‘You can’t expect to sit back and observe, you have to be ready to speak about what you believe in.’ I got used to being prepared for anything.”
Desirae interned with Rep. Fox in 2005 through the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Intern Fellowship Program at Simmons College. She attended legislative sessions, caucus meetings, and community meetings and events, becoming adept at constituent relations. She also became more aware of gender disparities in politics and the challenges women face when campaigning.
Now the Associate Director for Undergraduate Service-Learning at her alma mater, Desirae is helping a new generation of students make a difference in their communities.
She’s also thinking about running for office and says her internship was a launch pad. “I learned that you don’t have to wait to be asked to do those kinds of things.”
Graduates from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Intern Fellowship Program have gone on to graduate school, law school, and a wide variety of political careers:
- Campaign Field Work Director
- Director of Public Relations and Communication for former Senator Pamela Resor
- Chief of Staff, Rep. Cory Atkins
- Executive Assistant and Scheduler for the Office of State Senator Eric T. Schneiderman
- Consulate General of Israel to New England; Academic Affairs Department and Speakers
- Dewey Square Group Strategies; Fieldwork Director, Washington, DC
- Kosovo Trust Agency/European Union as a Media Monitor