Tennessee First Lady Andrea Conte may not be a household name, but one University of Tennessee at Martin student is learning about state government first hand with Conte’s help.
Nicole “Nikki” Draper, a senior political science major from Chattanooga, is currently in Nashville serving as an intern for Conte, a position she received as part of the Tennessee Governor’s Internship Program.
“I heard about the internship program through my employer and also chairperson of the English department, Dr. Lynn Alexander,” said Draper. “She strongly encouraged me to apply. After she gave me a copy of the application, I went online to find out more information.”
“Nikki wants to go to law school and has been very involved with student government,” said Alexander. “To me, the internship just made sense.”
Draper, who has been active in the Student Government Association all four years of her college career - including a year as the vice president - has already experienced more in the first few weeks of her internship than she imagined.
“Working for the First Lady’s Office has truly been an experience,” said Draper. “I have learned so much already.”
Draper is helping the First Lady and her staff with day-to-day activities which help advance the work on her priority issues. Conte’s priority issues include protecting the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund, the development of the state’s Child Advocacy Centers, and restoring and preserving Tennessee’s Executive Residence.
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund was designed to assist victims of crimes or, in the case of the victim’s death, his or her dependent family members in paying out-of-pocket expenses incurred as the direct result of personal injuries sustained by a criminal offense. Conte is committed to ensuring the fund continues to meet the needs of crime victims and their families, and supports the Commission on Crime Victims Assistance in their efforts to provide recommendations and advice on issues relating to the fund.
Conte also provides a considerable amount of support and effort to ensure the development of Child Advocacy Centers in all 31 judicial districts in Tennessee. Child Advocacy Centers are non-profit facilities that offer a nurturing environment wher children who are alleged victims of sexual and/or physical abuse can feel safe and receive counseling and support. In addition, the centers assist law enforcement in gathering information on reported cases of child abuse.
Since becoming First Lady of Tennessee, Conte has taken on the restoration and preservation of Tennessee’s Executive Residence as a priority issue. She is committed to raising private funds to restore and protect the residence as a vital part of preserving Tennessee’s history, while preparing the home for the future.
“I believe in her initiatives; they hit home for me,” said Draper. “I can personally identify with two of them, and the personal ties are self-motivation to put my all into it. I am going to put all my energy into doing whatever I can to ensure that her objectives are carried out.”
While Draper is enjoying the workload in Tennessee’s capital city, she admires the dedicated staff with whom she is associated.
“The First Lady’s office has been wonderful,” said Draper. “The staff has been patient with me, not expecting me to know how to do everything. The best part of the job is everyone genuinely cares.
My supervisor showed me around the downtown area - I mean, how many people would have taken the time to give you a tour of the city?”
One of Draper’s past professors and coordinator of her internship, Dr. Richard Chesteen, a professor in the Department of Management, Marketing and Political Science, praised Draper.
“Nikki has demonstrated her dependability and willingness to work in her activities at UT Martin on behalf of the student body,” said Chesteen. “We are proud of her and for her.”
Draper will finish up her studies this semester in Nashville and graduate in May.
Citing her influence as a role model, Alexander said, “Nikki worked for the English department for two years and we all miss her.
She was all the things you want - dependable, enthusiastic, personable - but it was more. Nikki likes people and she wants to work with people.”
“As it moves closer to graduation, I am sure I will have a clearer vision as to the path the Lord wants me to take,” said Draper. “I am just enjoying myself right now.
“If I could leave something with anybody reading this, it would be to follow your dreams . . . , experience many different things, step outside your comfort zone, and then and only then, will you really see what you are made of.”