Here we are in the heat of another big election year when hundreds of candidates are vying for public office at the local, county, state and national levels. It also is a time when young voters, and those who are nearing voting age, often think about entering careers in public service.

To prepare for these key government positions in California and elsewhere, the students enrolled in the CSU system have a distinct advantage with a full spectrum of educational opportunities that reach far beyond the classrooms and into the halls of California state government. In addition to the myriad of college courses in political science and civic studies offered at all 23 campuses, they also have access to the CSU's unique Center for California Studies and its nationally renowned Capital Fellows Program, administered through Sacramento State.


Founded in 1982, the Center encompasses four fellowship programs focused on the state's three branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial. It also administers the Federal State Relations Fellowship which places a Capital Fellow with the California Institute for Federal Policy Research in Washington, D.C., the LegiSchool Project for high school students, the Sacramento Semester Program offering governmental internships with college credit to undergraduates, and the Faculty Research Fellows Program for faculty and staff.

To be eligible for the Capital Fellows Program, applicants must be 20 years old by the beginning of the fellowship and have completed their undergraduate degree by September of the fellowship year. They also must demonstrate an interest in state government and public service.

Applications to the 2017-18 Capital Fellows Program open October 2016.

Graduate, postgraduate and mid-career applicants are welcome, but the selection process is limited each year by budgetary restraints. An average 1,200 to 1,400 applicants compete for just 64 positions each year -- 18 each in the Assembly, Senate and Executive Fellows programs, and 10 in the Judicial Administration Fellowship Program.

Fellows in each program work for 10 to 11 months, receive health benefits, a monthly stipend of $2,627 and are employees of Sacramento State. As full-time employees, they are typically given assignments with a significant amount of responsibility and challenge.

During their fellowships, students also take six units of graduate courses on California government issues through Sacramento State campus. Each educational program is tailored to the specific fellowship and governmental experience.

Last year, 49 percent of the Capital Fellowship Class became full-time employees of the state office where they were assigned, 11 percent moved to other federal, state and local positions, 13 percent continued with grad school or pursued law degrees, 11 percent entered the private sector, and 3 percent took jobs with non-profit organizations.

One of the most notable members of the distinguished fellows club – and there are many, including present and former U.S. congressmen, state assembly members and senators and superior court judges – is Dia S. Poole, the president of CSU Alumni Council, the statewide organization representing more than 3 million CSU alumni. A 1990 graduate of Cal State San Bernardino with a business administration degree, she is a long-time member of the council and the CSUSB Alumni Association and was named the campus' Alumni Advocate of the Year in 2008.

Following graduation, Poole completed the Capital Fellows' Jesse M. Unruh Assembly Fellowship Program working for then-assemblywoman, now congresswoman Barbara Lee, chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus as staff director. Since then, she has spent more than two decades serving in the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state government. Her distinguished career also includes producing, hosting and reporting for several radio and TV public affairs programs in Southern California.

Poole said she found out about the Capital Fellows Program while working for the County of San Bernardino and through a friend from the Inland Empire who was working in the California State Senate.

"With nearly 14 years of local government experience under my belt, I found that the skills I already possessed were highly valued upon entering the fellowship," she added. "There's a misconception that Fellows must be recent undergraduates when, in fact, the program encourages mid-career professionals to apply as well.

"What is unique about the program is that it provides a rare opportunity to gain first-hand experience with the three branches of California state government, all while earning graduate credit and a monthly stipend. This is not a typical 'internship' – Fellows do the same work that regular, full-time state employees do – and gain the knowledge, skills and networks that often lead to full-time employment opportunities in state agencies and offices.

"After completing the year-long fellowship on a Friday, I and several of my classmates were hired the following Monday as full-time staff in the California State Legislature. That led to 19 more years of service in state government."

A Life Changer

When asked what the Capital Fellows Program meant to her, Poole said: "Definitely life changing. I am very proud to have served at the highest levels of the state government… that experience was priceless. I am proud to have served as a resource and mentor for the Fellows and to have served as co-director for the Judicial Administration Fellowship Program.

"Those of us who have benefited so greatly from the programs have a responsibility to help find the best and the brightest for the next generation of California's public policy leaders."

Poole continues to serve as an unofficial ambassador for the CSU Capital Fellows Program by speaking to students, alumni and candidates throughout the state and at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) across the country and encouraging them to participate in the program.

"I feel obligated to pay it forward," she said.

Visiting Google 

2015-16 Assembly Fellows visit Google as part of their annual Tech Tour to the Silicon Valley.