Honors Environmental Studies Student Interns in Virginia General Assembly
February 28, 2020

Paige Punzalan, a Sophomore in the Honors College majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Biology, has had the exceptional experience of interning for Delegate Kenneth Plum in the General Assembly since January 8, 2020. Held in the Pocahontas Building near the Capitol in Richmond, Paige’s internship will go until the GA session adjourns on March 7, 2020.

With the goal of one day attending law school and working as a specialist or legal counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency, Paige was eager to find the perfect opportunity to reaffirm her future career plans. After learning about the possibility of interning in the General Assembly during a visit to the VCU Experiential Opportunities Fair in the fall of 2019, she promptly put together her application, interviewed, and was matched with Delegate Plum upon acceptance to the program.

Reflecting on the application process, Paige admits “I went in not knowing who I would be matched with, whether they would be Democratic or Republican or what their beliefs may be.” Regardless, she goes on to say, “I was looking for an immersive experience into Virginia’s legislative process. I wanted to see how the Delegates and Senators operate on a day-to-day basis, how their meetings with lobbyists and stakeholders go, what their Legislative Aids do, how they meet and contact their constituents, etc. I wanted to reinforce my interest in public policy and see just how much say the public has in the process of lawmaking and how much this may be affected by the politics of it all.”

Richmond general assembly, overlook of group [Overlook of General Assembly Session]

As an intern, Paige has a variety of duties. Ranging from handling phone calls and e-mails received by Del. Plum’s office and delivering important correspondence, to tracking and researching talking points for bills presented by the Delegate, there is hardly a wasted moment in Paige’s internship. On top of that, she observes meetings for notable information shared by the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources committee and its subcommittees.

“The most beneficial part…in terms of application to my major and what I want to do later in life,” explains Paige, “is the ability to observe with greater detail the factors that go into creating legislation and new policy affecting our environment through the lens of the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources committee.”

Although the job responsibilities in and of themselves have not posed any unexpected challenges for Paige, that isn’t to say that the experience hasn’t been without its own complications and surprises. On January 20, 2020 (MLK Day), a group of roughly 22,000 individuals surrounded the Capitol building in Richmond as part of a pro-Second Amendment rights rally. In the end, nobody was hurt, yet Paige shares that it was nevertheless “fairly unnerving, as we were required to be briefed on safety measures the Friday before and assured that business would go [on] as usual. I had decided to stay home, as did some of the other interns, and the Pages were also required to stay home. Thankfully, nothing happened, but it was alarming to see heavily armed protestors in photos surrounding the Capitol and nearby areas.”

Despite encountering tough matters such as the rally, Paige remains impressed by Del. Plum and his office as they navigate such issues. “Delegate Plum’s office always accepts everyone’s voice and opinion,” she says. “We promote genuine conversations with an open minded approach and avoid being combative.” Accordingly, Paige has “learned that not everyone is going to have the same beliefs, but it is the job of the legislator to represent their district and their constituents as well as uphold basic human rights while maintaining the safety of the general public, which Delegate Plum does very gracefully.”

Approaching graduation in just a bit over a year, Paige has already been accepted into VCU’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies to Master of Environmental Studies program, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2022. Therefore, she will begin taking courses in the fall of 2020 to count towards her Master’s degree. As such, she is incredibly grateful for her experience interning and the opportunities it has awarded her to further bolster her upcoming academic and career endeavors. “I have been able to interact with key players in current environmental initiatives focused on sustainability and conservation, such as the Secretary of [the Virginia Marine Resources Commission], the VA Executive Director for the [Chesapeake Bay Foundation], and the Director of the [Virginia Department of Environmental Quality].”

All in all, Paige is continuing to work hard towards her future goals in any way possible. “My ultimate goal is to make strong, meaningful, and impactful changes in our society that will contribute to the fight towards a more stable and healthier climate through activism and policy changes.” Drawing from her experiences thus far, she also takes a moment to encourage other students to seek “proper guidance, advice, and support in order to efficiently reach [their]  goals” by making meaningful connections with professors and professionals working in the desired field of study.

In all that she does, the Honors College wishes Paige the absolute best and is both incredibly excited for and proud of her. We’re undeniably thrilled to see where life takes her next!