This ‘Life-Changing Spark’ Of A Professor Shaped 1,000+ Colorado Statehouse Interns

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Photo: CSU's John Straayer With Legislative Interns
Professor John Straayer, left, with current CSU interns and, at far right, State Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, a CSU alum and former intern.

First, let's do this by the numbers.

Colorado State University professor John Straayer has shepherded ;more than 1,000 student interns through the state legislature over 37 years. He personally drove a van that delivered the students to the Capitol twice a week every spring. One of his former students told the U.S. Senate Thursday that Straayer had tallied up about 140,000 miles in the effort.

That former student — and former state legislative intern — is Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. The Yuma senator rose to the senate floor Thursday to honor Straayer on his retirement as a political science professor and director of the internship program at CSU.

"Congratulations Dr. Straayer. Thank you for your service to Colorado State University, to the state of Colorado. And thank you for impacting the lives of so many people. And, from this United States senator, thanks for being that life-changing spark."

Gardner went on to describe a little more about the internships: "Every Tuesday and Thursday, rain or snow, Dr. Straayer, a van or two, and an over-caffeinated, sleep-deprived, ambitious crew of college juniors and seniors would travel to Denver from Fort Collins under the tutelage of Dr. Straayer to learn the art of legislation."


The state's junior senator isn't Straayer's only success story. Several state legislators and local officials, past and present, went through the internship program, as did several lobbyists. Former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter didn't do the internship, but he took one of Straayer's classes.

The interns earn six hours of college credit to serve as legislative aides, answering constituent requests, doing research and sometimes helping a lawmaker prepare to testify about a bill. At the end of the semester, each student writes an essay reflecting on his or her experience.

Straayer said he encounters little cynicism when the students have finished their internships. Most say in their essays that they believe lawmakers have the state's best interests at heart, even if the student and politician disagree on the issues. Some students enter the program gung ho for political careers, others are majoring in fields like agriculture and engineering and want to know more about public policy.

In his own 37 years at the legislature — he does academic research and grades papers while his students are at work — Straayer says the "transformation of increasingly sharp partisanship has been a long, slow march."

​On Thursday, he planned his last official trip with his interns, "another wonderful group of young kids. [And] the ones from prior years still get ahold of me," he said. "I have 1,000 kids. They're fantastic."

Professor John Straayer spoke with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel.