Originally created 03/12/98

Older intern bucks legislative norm



ATLANTA -- The college students in the Georgia Legislative Intern Program are mostly in their late teens and early 20s, easy to spot as they mingle with lawmakers and lobbyists at the state Capitol.

After the day's work, they usually head back to their dorms or apartments and maybe order a pizza for dinner.

Then there is Rita Anzalone. She's a college student like the others, but she is 45.

She leaves the Capitol in the evenings and drives home to Peachtree City for dinner with her husband and three children.

"It's strange. I don't fit," Ms. Anzalone said. "I can't get close to these kids. I'm always the mother figure, the designated driver. I'm not like other interns. Sometimes I get lonely."

But, she says, "My husband has been very supportive. He told me to just enjoy the internship. And I think my kids are proud of me."

She is one of 32 college juniors and seniors selected for the approximately three-month internship. In addition to college credit, they earn about $190 a week, state officials said.

Georgia State University Professor Bill Thomas, who has run the Georgia Legislative Intern Program for more than 10 years, was Ms. Anzalone's prelaw professor. He says he encouraged her to apply for the program.

"I'm an advocate for the nontraditional student," Mr. Thomas said. "These are persons who are going back to school to make something better of their lives. Rita has been super."

After two decades as a homemaker, Ms. Anzalone decided to return to college four years ago. During her early 20s, she attended Orange County Community College in upstate New York, but says she was a C student then and never considered herself book-smart.

Now Ms. Anzalone, an interdisciplinary studies major, is a HOPE scholar with a 3.35 grade-point average, only months from summer graduation.

Both returning to school and the internship have been a challenge, she said.

"Sometimes ... I think, maybe I'm too old for this," she said. "But it was something I really wanted to do. I want to understand how laws are made."

Along with the other interns, she monitors legislative committees, answers telephones and runs errands. But unlike some other interns, she has personal reasons for wanting to know more about the law.

Her sister was slain 20 years ago, but no one was convicted, she said.

"There was never any justice," she said. "I just feel a need to make something good happen through this."

Interns benefit from hands-on experience and exposure to politics, Mr. Thomas said.

"This is not something you read in a book," he said. "If an intern adapts well, they can make the contacts they'll need to get a future job or references."

When she was younger, Ms. Anzalone says, she considered a career in psychiatry. Now, after her internship and Georgia State experience, she's headed in another direction.

"I'm thinking law school," she said. "I'm taken by all the power here (at the Capitol). I watch all the lawyers, and here, I think, you can really apply all your skills to do good work."