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An Upper Peninsula junior at the University of Michigan whose goal is to improve the foster care system he grew up in is the 2022 top prize winner of the Daniel Rosenthal Legislative Intern Awards.

Seven other men and women from around the state have also been awarded prizes in the program honoring outstanding work by interns in the Michigan Legislature.

The awards ceremonies, held in the Anderson House Office Building’s Mackinac Room, brought parents, grandparents, legislative aides and lawmakers who nominated deserving interns.

They hugged, shook hands and made speeches praising interns for their patience and skills writing newsletters and resolutions, taking phone calls and responding to constituents and pursuing fearless, problem-solving initiative.

Justin Kasieta, of Ironwood, an intern for Rep. Greg Markkanen, won the $1,500 top prize for his work.  Among his projects was working as a leading liaison with district constituents. He’s a general studies major.

Following his father’s death and his mother’s serious illness, Kasieta and his four siblings were placed in the state’s foster care system. He was determined to keep his family together. In his application for the annual award, Kasieta called himself a “fervent advocate to improve the foster care system I grew up in.”

He hopes to continue in public service while working in Markkanen’s office.

Now in its 45th year, the 2022 Daniel Rosenthal Legislative Internship Program drew a record 28 nominations and awarded an increased pool of winners.

More information about the program, nominations, applications and workshops is available here.

Nicholas Gewirtz, of DeWitt, a political science and economics major at Michigan State University, won a $750 Rosenthal prize. He was nominated by House Speaker Gary Randall. When his internship ended, Gewirtz landed a job with a top state lobbying firm.

“This opportunity also gave me a new attitude about state government,” Gewirtz said in his application for the honor. “From the outside looking in, the state government can seem like a slow process where not much gets done for the people.  However, once you are on the inside, it becomes clear how many people work hard everyday to the best they can for the people of Michigan.”

MSU student Ben Ardis, intern to Rep. Karen Whitsett’s office, also won a $750 prize. The East Lansing student in international relations was praised for extensive constituent research. “This opportunity has given me valuable knowledge about the inner workings of state government and how certain things are decided,” Ardis said.

Four interns each won $500 prizes. MSU student Alex Birkle, of Ann Arbor an intern to House Minority Leader Donna Laskinski, was praised for his role in research on bills and policy analysis of the upcoming 2022-23 fiscal year budget.

“Every single day that I’ve been an intern, I’ve looked forward to heading into work.  The ability to help others on a daily basis makes working in a legislative office one of the more rewarding jobs in the world,” Birkle said in his application.

Annie McIntosh, of East Lansing, was also a $500 winner. The MSU political theory and constitutional democracy major was credited for writing constituent tributes in the office of sponsor Rep. Graham Filler. She also played a major role in helping constituents struggling with unemployment benefits.

 “The well-being of others through proper representation is, to me, a virtue, she said applying for the award honoring the late Daniel Rosenthal, whose family created the award in honor of his legislative internship.

Julia Walters, of East Lansing and an intern to Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., won a $500 prize. She’s a student at MSU. Walters worked primarily in constituent outreach and assisted in legislative policy research, which included double checking information about Covid-19 vaccines during a legislative committee hearing.

“While my classroom knowledge provides a framework,” Walters said, her internship has given her, “the insight into the unspoken barriers to accessing these social programs” and “provided invaluable education.”

Emily Douponce, of Bay City, and an intern in the office of Rep. Tim Beson, also won a $500 prize. The MSU pre-law student was credited with working on legislative tributes honoring constituents. She was praised for playing a major role in helping win passage of a bill renaming a bridge for a fallen Iraq combat veteran.

“I have gained a valuable experience learning experience working with people from various backgrounds that built my character,” Douponce said of her experience.

Julia Schmidt, of Bay City, and an intern with Rep. Shri Thanedar, was awarded a $200 prize established in the name of the late state Rep. Vern Ehlers. The MSU student worked extensively to help constituents win unemployment benefit. She’s a political science and pre-law student.

From her experience Schmidt said, “Although I am still very interested in becoming a state representative or senator myself, I know now just how many careers I could have that play an instrumental role in policy making.”

Also recognized were:

  • Megan Arline, of Delaware, Ohio, and an MSU international relations and affairs major interned with Rep. Brenda Carter.
  • Luke Bingaman, of St. Joseph, political science and pre-law student at MSU, interned with Rep. Karen Whitsett
  • Portia Chana, of Troy, interned with Rep. Lori Stone. Chana’s a social relations and policy major at MSU.
  • Julia Chenault, of Lansing, is an MSU political science and pre-law junior who interned with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.
  • Aaron Claeys, of St. Clair, studies political science at Indiana State University and interned with Rep. Kevin Hertel.
  • Andrew Compton, of East Lansing, interned with Rep. Brenda Carter. He’s an international studies and political economy major.
  • Nikki Goodnight, a political science major at MSU, who lives in Lansing and lists her hometown as Monroe. She interned with Rep. Brenda Carter.
  • Alex Harimoto, an Indiana State University student and intern with Rep. Ryan Berman.
  • Zoe Kimlick, an MSU student and intern with Rep. Padma Kuppa.
  • Elliana Kisiel, of Kalamazoo, is a social relations and policy major at MSU. She interned with Sen. Sean McCann.
  • Micaiah Lewis, of East Lansing, is a social relations and policy major at MSU student who interned with Rep. Brenda Carter,
  • Noah Peterson, of Rochester Hills, is an MSU international relations major who interned with Rep. Samantha Steckloff.
  • Kristia Postema, of Walker, and an MSU social relations and policy major. She interned with Rep. Tyrone Carter.
  • Talia Pruietta, a Saginaw Valley State University social work student from Saginaw, interned with Rep. Amos O’Neal.
  • Therese Reinhold, an MSU poltical science student, interned with Rep. Angela Witwer. She’s from the Utica area.
  • Jana Rida, of Dearborn Heights and a University of Michigan-Dearborn student interned with Rep. Padma Kuppa. She’s a bioengineering major.
  • Zoe Rogers, of Kalamazoo, and political science major at Western Michigan University. She interned with Rep. Sean McCann.

MSU’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) and James Madison College host the award and a series of educational workshops for legislative interns.

James Madison is a residential college designed to cultivate learning, belonging and human relationships and dedicated to providing a liberal education in public affairs for undergraduate students.

IPPSR is a unit within the College of Social Science. Its focus is on public policy education, political leadership and survey research.

IPPSR is home of the Michigan Political Leadership Program, the Office for Survey Research, State of the State Survey, Public Policy Forum, Correlates of State Policy, State Networks, State of the State Podcast, Public Policy Research Fellows, Michigan Policy Insiders Panel and Michigan Policy Wonk Blog.