by Fabeain Barkwell, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
Being at the Texas Capitol has been an eye-opening experience for me in more ways than one. I didn’t fully anticipate how instrumental the impact of participating in this internship program would be in teaching me about myself as a social worker. At the beginning of the program I was asked, “What are you most excited about gaining from this experience?” Many of the thoughts that came to my mind had to deal with learning how to interpret and create policy and being able to take my knowledge from the capitol and utilize it with clients in the future. The one thing I felt I was looking forward to the most from this internship was the personal growth and development I was going to experience, and how it would affect my future career.
Once I was accepted into the legislative internship I was dead set on learning everything I could about mental health policy in Texas. Since my practice background is in behavioral health, I thought it was appropriate that my experience here in Austin reflect that as well, and I sought out every opportunity I could to do so. During this legislative session, I have had the opportunity to work on major mental health bills such as HB 10, relating to behavioral health parity and access to care, and HB 13, dealing with local mental health challenges and establishing community grants.
While I have had the ability to work on some mental health related issues, I have been most surprised to find that most of my attention has been spent on other topics that are new to me. My primary committees are Higher Education, Energy Resources, and Culture Recreation and Tourism. A few weeks ago, HB 1818, a major bill regarding the Railroad Commission of Texas, was sent out of the Energy Resources committee and set on the general calendar. Not having any personal background in oil and gas, or with the Railroad Commission, required me to dive head first into multiple resources, so that I could be as well versed on these issues as possible.
Along with writing the bill analysis for HB 1818, I was asked to give a presentation on the bill during a briefing before chiefs of staff, stakeholders, and my colleagues. At times, it can be difficult veering away from what is comfortable, immersing yourself in something new and challenging, but despite that, I was proud to see that all of the hard work I put into this bill was noticed, appreciated, and respected not only by my supervisor, but also by staff and supervisors from multiple offices in the capitol.
What I learned from this experience is the importance of swimming in new waters. Evolving requires taking on a challenge, and it is ok to broaden your skill set into other areas and remain open to any opportunities that present themselves to you.