Campus: San Francisco State University -- October 25, 2002

SFSU Student Working In Washington, D.C., On Prestigious Internship


A San Francisco State University senior is one of 22 students from California colleges and universities participating in an internship program in the U.S. House of Representatives through the Leon and Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy.

Martina Gillis, an urban studies major, left for Washington, D.C., in late September for a three-month internship with Rep. Barbara Lee, an Oakland Democrat. The well-known welfare rights advocate and native San Franciscan said her first weeks have been hectic.

“So far, we’ve been consumed with the vote (on Iraq). Basically, I’ve been responding to constituents who are expressing their concerns about the war,” she said. “The phone calls, e-mails and faxes have been overwhelming at times.”

Gillis, 35, has also prepared talking points for Lee and expects to do research for potential legislation. The experience will help her earn a minor in political science.

Gillis, who expects to graduate in May, was recommended for nomination to the program by the San Francisco Urban Institute, the nonprofit research and action arm of SFSU that addresses problems in the Bay Area’s urban centers. Gillis was recommended because of her welfare rights advocacy through the Coalition for Ethical Welfare Reform. She was a founder and executive director of that organization.

“Martina has been active in the national policy debate for several years now,” said Susan Alunan, associate director of the San Francisco Urban Institute. “She’s been on welfare, she is raising two children alone, she grew up in the projects of Bayview-Hunter’s Point, but she
overcame a lot of obstacles. She walks the walk and talks the talk because she’s been there.”
As an advocate, Gillis helped restructure San Francisco’s welfare program, which she said has become a model for other cities by incorporating housing searches into welfare-to-work activity for homeless families, and maximizing options for parents to attend four-year universities.
“In my advocacy role, I’m usually at odds with government officials, but so far the internship is going well,” she said. “Part of the reason I wanted to do this is to see if I have what it takes to work on the inside, and possibly one day run for office myself.”

The Panetta Institute, founded by former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and his wife Sylvia, is based at California State University, Monterey Bay. The Institute sponsors a variety of study opportunities in politics, public policy and government, as well as the Congressional internship program. The Institute covers the interns’ expenses and gives them a stipend while they’re in Washington. Students will receive up to 20 college credits at the end of the program.
Though the Panetta Institute provides housing to the interns, because Gillis’ 6- and 16-year-old children accompanied her to Washington, D.C., she had to find alternative housing arrangements. The Urban Institute spearheaded a fund-raising campaign to pay her children’s travel expenses and housing for the three months.

Contact: Matt Itelson (415) 338-1743, (415) 338-1665, matti@sfsu.edu


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