April 9, 2018

VSU’s Haneefah Saleem Begins 2018 as Intern at Top Level of State Politics

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University’s Haneefah Saleem spent the first three months of 2018 working directly with state senators and representatives at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, trading in lectures and homework for constituent issues and research on legislation that shapes government policy.

Saleem, a political science major from Savannah, Georgia, was chosen to work full time as an intern in the governor’s floor leaders office during the 2018 legislative session, which kicked off on Jan. 8. She received academic credit for the internship, which will help her graduate in May.

“Political science has always been a really big deal for me,” she said. “In class you learn about government, but I really feel like you don’t get the full experience unless you’re in the middle of it. I’ve learned so much from my time at the Capitol. You experience so many different things and so many perspectives. You get to speak directly with the representatives and senators. You learn so much, and you make great connections.”

Saleem reported directly to the governor’s floor leaders, a team of three state senators and three state representatives who promote Deal’s interests and support his legislation in both chambers. The 2018 governor’s floor leaders were Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville), Rep. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro), Sen. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), and Sen. Larry Walker (R-Perry).

“The governor needs these individuals because they play such a key role in the House of Representatives and the Senate in getting everyone on board and explaining legislation so that the governor can pass what he wants to pass,” Saleem said. “I found that it’s really important.

“These representatives and senators were so personable and giving. They invited us interns out to lunch and dinner all the time. If we had any questions or needed anything, they were so helpful.”

Saleem’s daily responsibilities included helping to run the Page Program for both the Senate and House of Representatives, conducting research on bills Gov. Nathan Deal wanted to pass, attending committee meetings, booking rooms for groups visiting the Capitol, and helping to resolve constituent issues.

“If a constituent had an issue with Medicaid or Veterans Affairs or something like that, we were kind of the middle man, so I gathered all their information about the issue and then relayed it to whichever department it needed to go to so they could further investigate and resolve the issue,” said Saleem, the daughter of Kai Russell and Andre Saleem.

Saleem said she felt confident in her ability to succeed as an intern partly because of the preparation she received from her VSU professors, specifically Dr. Robert Harding and Dr. Marc Pufong in the Department of Political Science.

“The political science professors at VSU teach you so much about how to present yourself,” she said. “They teach you a lot about how to make connections. They really prepared me and showed me how to take advantage of this opportunity that many don’t have. They encouraged me to do my best and work extremely hard because people are remembering not only me but also the school I’m coming from. Even though we had a small VSU representation at the Capitol, we were Blazers and we were united.”

After graduation, Saleem plans to attend law school. She has her sights set on a career in corporate law or governmental affairs, and perhaps even a position as a state judge later on down the road.

“I love government and politics a lot because I feel like my voice is very powerful and I feel like the law is very black and white,” she said. “If I can use my own voice to help people who may not know the law or have the right information, that’s what I’m about. That’s a huge thing for me.”

Saleem is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Kappa Upsilon Chapter and served as chapter president from January 2016 to December 2017. She has completed more than 300 hours of community services with the sorority, including visiting nursing homes, volunteering at food banks, and hosting fundraisers for those in need. She is a member of the Valdosta-Lowndes Metropolitan Section of the National Council of Negro Women and served as its parliamentarian from 2015 to 2016. She is also a member of Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honor society.