For Olamide Oladapo, the Gold Dome Was a Golden Opportunity

Olamide Oladapo had the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of her older sisters, who both attended the same university in Georgia. Instead, she decided she’d rather follow her own path and do something different.

Because of her interest in politics, Oladapo knew she wanted to be somewhere close to the state Capitol, and no college is closer to Georgia’s Gold Dome than Georgia State. But becoming a Panther offered her more than proximity — it offered her opportunity, specifically a semester-long internship at the Capitol that put her side by side with state senators during a hectic and high-profile general session.

Now a newly minted Georgia State graduate, Oladapo says she can’t think of a single thing she’d change about her experience. “It really changed my life,” she says. “A lot of the things I was able to do, I wouldn’t have been able to do if I hadn’t gone to Georgia State.”

‘It Made Me Want to Change the System’

The political bug first bit Oladapo during her senior year of high school, when she volunteered for a local campaign. “It was very brief, but just seeing that political energy, that excitement, seeing people hustling and bustling to get something done — that political energy got me excited,” she remembers. “It made me want to be a part of that process.”

The Capitol internship was an opportunity Oladapo found out about relatively early in her Georgia State career. The only hang up was the time commitment — the internship is so intensive that associate professor Daniel P. Franklin, who coordinates the statewide internship program, recommends that students not take classes while interning.

Putting the internship on the back burner didn’t mean Oladapo was biding her time, however. A summer internship at the Fulton County Juvenile Court, in particular, proved to be eye-opening.

“Working there was a really good experience, because I didn’t know too much about juvenile laws or how that affects children,” she explains. “But it made me want to change the system, because some of these kids would be first-time offenders getting heavy sentences that they would carry for the rest of their lives. Depending on the situation, I don’t think that a 13-year-old should have to carry the ramifications of something they did in their youth for the rest of their lives.”

As she headed toward graduation, Oladapo decided it was time to pull the trigger on the Capitol opportunity, packed schedule or no. “I told [Dr. Franklin], ‘I’m about to enter my last semester, and I won’t have the chance to do this again,’” she says. “So I applied, and that was it. And it was such an amazing experience.”

Reaching Across the Aisle

The program placed Oladapo in the office of State Sen. Donzella James, a Democrat whose 35th District covers a wide arc of Atlanta’s southwestern suburbs. As chair of the Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee, James was able to give Oladapo a close look at how Georgia handles contracts with other states. But she also provided a good example of cooperation between parties.

“She was working with Sen. Charlie Bethel [R-54], who’s over insurance and labor, to have a bill that she sponsored heard in his committee,” Oladapo says. “He actually sponsored the autism bill that passed this last session and Senator James supported that legislation as well.

“The suite I worked in was a bipartisan suite, so there were both Republican and Democratic senators there, and everyone was very kind. One of the ‘inside’ things I learned is that everyone is pretty civil with each other. I think the U.S. Congress paints that picture that you hear about in the news, with all that strife and partisanship, but [in the Georgia legislature]they were civil to one another. It definitely wasn’t what I expected, but I’m glad that I got to see it firsthand.”

In fact, the fellow intern Oladapo describes as her “work BFF” was a University of Georgia student working under a Republican senator. She says she came out of the experience with a greater respect both for the political system and the people who inhabit it — particularly the ones behind the scenes.

“The unsung heroes of the Capitol are the staff,” Oladapo declares. “The senators and representatives, they get the glory and the shine for sure, and there’s nothing wrong with that — they do go through those grueling political campaigns, long legislative sessions, and a number of other political issues. But the people who kept the machine running, I saw what they have to do, and it’s a lot.”

Guided on the Right Path

As she looks back on her Georgia State career, Oladapo is thankful for all the help she received — not only in the form of financial aid such as the Foundation Scholarship and the Outstanding Student Leader Scholarship from the Student Alumni Association, but in the form of good role models and mentors.

“I actually got two of my [internship]recommendations from the associate dean of the Honors College, Dr. Sarah Cook, and I got my other recommendation from Mallory McKenzie, who’s the Alumni and Events coordinator,” she says. “Both of them are amazing women whom I look up to. And because I was an employee there before I got my internship, I would say the Honors College has definitely been fundamental in my growth as a student at Georgia State.”

Oladapo also counts herself fortunate to have found inspiring examples in her fellow students — in class, in SAA, and in Theta Nu Xi, the multicultural sorority where she served as president her senior year.

“My sorority sisters have been such a huge push for me. There are so many accomplished women, alumni who have come through my chapter, whom I look up to,” she says. “My chapter is very ambitious and motivated. When new members come in, they look up to the older members such as myself, and I want them to be able to say, ‘Olamide is doing good things, she’s working to achieve something, she’s focused on her academics and wants to graduate.’”

One thing they won’t be doing, Oladapo confidently states, is calling her “senator.”

“I decided that I don’t want to be an elected official,” she says with a grin. “I could be behind the scenes — I could be a chief of staff, I could work in the office of the Secretary of the Senate and aid the political process that way. But I don’t want to be Senator Such-and-Such. The pace they have to keep up campaigning, that’s just not for me. And I feel that’s not how I could best change the political process.”

Instead, Oladapo says she wants to spend a year working with a lobbying firm before starting law school. But wherever her path goes, she’s grateful to Georgia State for helping her find it — and she’s got important advice for other students looking to find theirs.

“Internships. Just do an internship,” she says. “For better or for worse, whether you figure out this is what you want to do or you don’t, I don’t believe there’s such thing as a bad experience, because you always learn something, whether it’s ‘Oh, OK, I don’t actually want to do this anymore’ or ‘This is my path in life and I want to pursue this even further as a career.” Having had the internships I had as an undergrad was really good for me, because now I know for sure I want to work in the political arena in some way, shape or form. What do I want to be doing? TBA. But I know that it will be something great that I am truly passionate about.”