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South Carolina Honors College

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Beyond the Gates: Headed to Capitol Hill

Posted January 3, 2020
By Sarah Barnett

When we spoke to brand new Honors College graduate Mae Chinnes, she was heading up I-95 to move into her new apartment in Washington, DC before starting her new job on Capitol Hill as a staff assistant for Congressman Jim Clyburn. Excited and optimistic about starting her post-college life, she hopes to parlay her interests in public service, health equity, social justice and public policy into a successful career that creates a meaningful impact.

Initially a biochemistry major, Chinnes was introduced to the world of public health and policy work by her Honors College advisor, Elise Porter, who suggested she enroll in Mass Incarceration and Public Health: Structural, Community and Individual Impacts. Inspired by the intersectional content of this course, she pursued her first position in government as an intern at the South Carolina Department of Corrections where she was tasked with auditing mental health services at facilities across the state.

“My time at UofSC was so shaped by my experiences beyond the classroom. The opportunities that have been most influential in my understanding of issues that I care about and the direction of my career path were shaped by my experiences beyond the classroom, and none of that would have been possible anywhere but UofSC,” said Chinnes.

Her work at SCDOC exposed her to the high levels of mental health issues and addiction in correctional facilities and a deeper understanding of their criminalization. Eager to gain experience, Chinnes also interned with Congressman Jim Clyburn that same summer in his state office, and last fall, she returned to Clyburn’s D.C. office as part of the Washington Semester Program. After a total of 13 months of undergraduate internship experience in Washington, Chinnes has found a permanent position with Congressman Jim Clyburn.

As a South Carolina Honors College graduate and a university nominee for the Truman Scholarship, Chinnes is poised for great things. As she finished her senior year at South Carolina, she crafted her senior thesis as a true-to-spirit culmination of her academic and beyond the classroom learning with the Honors College. Her thesis, A Policy Analysis of South Carolina Drug Court Legislation, reflects her passion for social and economic justice and legislative and policy reform, and has received serious accolades within the Honors College. In her thesis, she examined South Carolina drug court best practices and long-term outcomes, including recidivism, drug dependency and socioeconomic costs for formerly incarcerated individuals.

“I chose to research drug dependency criminalization for my thesis because drug dependency is a public health issue that is currently being addressed in the U.S. through the criminal justice system,” said Chinnes. “From my project, I wanted to gain an understanding of the landscape of drug dependency, drug courts and related policy in South Carolina while highlighting the intersections of these topics with a public health understanding of socially determined health disparities.”

Chinnes is laying the foundation for a career in policy development, political advocacy and community development that will have major impact on public health.

She said, “I started my job as a staff assistant during a pivotal moment in the House of Representatives. As I watch debates on the floor and listen to phone calls from constituents this week, I am reminded of the vast array of policy issues in this country which have led me to this career field. My current position in Congressman Clyburn’s office is an important first step in a career I plan to spend influencing public policy for the sake of equity and justice.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.