CJ Senior Serves in Texas Legislature

Ayomide Shittu, a senior at Sam Houston State University, is helping to shape the future of criminal justice as an intern in Austin.

The criminal justice major spent her spring semester with the office of State Representative Eric Johnson of House District 100 in Dallas. In addition to helping with constituent services, she assisted with two criminal justice bills on deferred adjudication and on expunging criminal records.

"So much gets done before a bill hits the floor," said Shittu. "We had to consult with different agencies about criminal justice policy. It starts with an idea, but then you have to do a lot of research and talk to experts (on the issue)."

Shittu conferred with nonprofit agencies, lawyers and government agencies that research criminal justice policy issues to get their input on the best language for the bill. She also helped identify witnesses to testify on the bill in committee. One of the bills, HB 1106, which would require the courts to inform defendants about the right to apply for non-disclosure before being placed on deferred adjudication, passed the House and is on the way to the Senate for consideration.

The second bill, HB 3181, outlines some new conditions that allow an expunction of a person's criminal record. It has been referred to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

Each year, about 125 students in the College of Criminal Justice are selected for internship programs, including federal, state, county and local law enforcement and correction agencies as well as victims’ services and private security. Internships, generally offered during the senior year, include a full-time, 40-hour assignment in an agency for a semester. Undergraduates earn nine semester hour credits, and graduate students earn six. The internship program is growing as interest intensifies.

Shittu learned about legislative opportunities at the Texas Student Leadership Forum on Faith and Values. The forum focused on elements for change, and three speakers, including two sitting state representatives, highlighted the need for more people to advocate change in the state legislature.

"Change is not only about a mission trip to Sudan," said Shittu. "It could be changing the big picture at the Texas Legislature.”

Shittu landed an internship in Johnson’s office, where her main duties involved constituent services.

"Every day is different," said Shittu. "I help organize constituent-related phone calls, e-mails and letters for Representative Johnson to know what the people of his district are concerned about. You can’t image the incredible amount of mail they receive on issues."

Rep. Johnson serves as a member of the Appropriations Committee, and his office has been deluged with petitions and letters about the $23 million shortfall in the state budget. Shittu also handled calls from constituents with family members who are incarcerated and assisted them with getting information from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Recent suicides in the state prompted by allegations of ongoing harassment made school bullying a "hot topic."

Bullying is an issue that is near and dear to Shittu’s heart. In addition to dealing with the issue in her internship, Shittu selected the topic of cyberstalking for her research poster presented at the 2011 Criminal Justice Undergraduate Conference. She said that state laws have not caught up with the various ways the Internet is used to stalk, harass and bully victims.

The project and her internship made her realize the importance of research in developing public policy. She often saw bills in the Legislature on aspects of criminal justice studied in her class.

Shittu credits Sam Houston State University in preparing her with the leadership skills to handle her various tasks, from writing letters on behalf of public officials, to working in a high pressure, fast paced environment, to being able to be flexible and multi-task.

"It gave me the ability to be successful," said Shittu.

Juan Ayala, Chief of Staff for Rep. Johnson, said that interns are a valuable human resource for legislators because they simply do not have the budget to hire a large enough staff to handle all the issues that arise.

"Ayo was a very good intern, with a very professional demeanor and dress," said Ayala. "She contributed to the esprit de corps of the office by maintaining such a positive attitude. Her inquisitive nature and dedication made her a true asset to our office."

Shittu encourages all SHSU students to participate in an internship to get experience on their resume and future positions. She has her sights on law school in 2012, but in the meantime, she hopes to bring what she learned to a non-profit or government agency. She desires to contribute and be involved with the community. Shittu is called by service.

Shittu was able to put in practice the education she received at the SHSU College of Criminal Justice.

“In college, it is like you spend time reading a cookbook,” Shittu said. “It would be nice to make someone dinner.”

Member of The Texas State University System