Holsworth to speak in Danville Tuesday, Oct. 6
Sep 14 2015 - 6:36pm

Join us at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville on Oct. 6 as renowned political scientist and analyst Bob Holsworth engages in a thought-provoking discussion of state and national elections in Virginia.

The evening begins with a 6 p.m. reception hosted by Sorensen alumni and community leaders Jennifer Bowles, Julie Brown, Helm Dobbins, Steven Gould, Missy Neff Gould, and Chris West. Be sure to bring potential applicants for the Political Leaders Program and Candidate Training Program!

This event is cosponsored by the Danville Register & Bee and the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce.

Sorensen to host third Autumn Gala on Nov. 10
Sep 10 2015 - 6:46pm

The Sorensen Institute is pleased to announce our third annual Autumn Gala, featuring a discussion on the collaborative and bipartisan efforts to introduce legislation to better define the nation's war powers.

We hope you'll join us on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City to hear from:

• U.S. Senator Tim Kaine;
• Va. Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, Admiral John Harvey;
• Scholar and diplomat Philip Zelikow; and
• Our discussion moderator, TIME's Massimo Calabresi.

You can have your business or organization sponsor a table! Contact Colleen Smith at 434-982-4910.

After dinner, the evening continues at a special alumni afterparty at Siné Irish Pub in Pentagon Row beginning at 9:30 p.m. All Sorensen alumni, including those who cannot attend the Gala, are invited to the afterparty. Potential PLP and CTP applicants are also welcome. (There is no dress code for the afterparty—cocktail and casual attire are equally appropriate.)

To purchase Gala tickets, visit To RSVP for the free alumni afterparty, email

Now Accepting 2016 CTP and PLP Applications
Sep 8 2015 - 4:46pm

Sorensen is now accepting applications for the 2016 Candidate Training Program (CTP) and the 2016 Political Leaders Program (PLP).

The Candidate Training Program is an intensive, four-day program focused on the fundamentals of a winning campaign for office.  Participants explore the nuts and bolts of building a strong campaign from the ground up—all within the context of ethics and principled public service. The curriculum does not prescribe a particular set of campaign guidelines or rules, but does provide candidates with a framework for developing their own code of conduct to run a winning and ethical campaign. Participants in the program represent  a broad range of ideologies and a diversity of communities from throughout Virginia.  The Candidate Training Program is sponsored in part by the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, which helps us keep tuition costs affordable.

The Political Leaders Program, Sorensen's flagship program, is a leadership development program for residents of Virginia interested in becoming more active in public service, whether as community leaders or as elected officials. Participation in this program has become a traditional "first step" for future political leaders in the Commonwealth. The class meets in various locations across Virginia, once a month for 10 months from March through December.

 Applications for both the PLP and the CTP are due by midnight on Monday, November 16th.  More information about the application process can be found on our Applications Page.

If you have any questions about either program, please contact Lauren Gilbert at 434-243-2844 or
If you would like to refer someone to our program, please visit our referrals page.

State Farm Seeking New Youth Advisory Board Members
Aug 25 2015 - 9:13am

A message from one of our High School Leaders Program sponsors, State Farm:

To all community partners, educators and students:
Applications are now available for new board members for the State Farm Youth Advisory Board (YAB). This is an incredible opportunity for a young person to grow as a leader, help out their communities, and network with a diverse group of 28 youth, ages 17-20, from across the U.S!
The YAB board is responsible for granting $5 million dollars in service-learning and community impact grants that seek to solve important domestic issues. As a member of the YAB, students will be provided an amazing personal developmental opportunity, as well as being able to make a long-lasting impact in communities they care about and provide solutions to today’s pertinent issues.
Students can apply now by visiting The application deadline is Oct. 2, 2015 at 5 PM (CST).
Please also forward this information to any 17-20 year old that you think would be interested in becoming a board member. They can check out the YAB on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube!
With a passion for education and service, our youth can make a difference! Thank you for helping us spread the word.

2015 Sorensen Alumni Day
Aug 5 2015 - 5:19pm

Sorensen will host a day-long program for Sorensen alumni and their guests on Saturday, August 29th in Charlottesville focusing on "Virginia's Evolving Justice System."  Our 2015 Alumni Day is an excellent opportunity to mix and mingle with fellow Sorensen alums while engaging with leaders in the justice system.

Alumni Day Schedule: Saturday, August 29th
11:30am - 12:30pm: Optional dutch-treat lunch at Brick & Mortar (18% gratuity included)
1:00pm - 3:00pm: Tour of Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail
3:30pm - 5:30pm: Meet at CitySpace for panel
     Virginia Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Victoria Cochran,
     Charlottesville Sheriff James Brown,
     Former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy,
     Retired General District Judge Steve Helvin, and
     ACLU Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga

5:30pm: Adjourn for optional dutch-treat dinner at Café Caturra

The cost of attending is a tax-deductible $29.00 per person minimum contribution.  All proceeds will go to Sorensen's scholarship fund to support those in need.  Both steps must be completed for you to be considered registered for the event!  The deadline to register is Monday, August 24th.

Step 1: Paying your registration fee
Visit and input a contribution of $29.00 per person attending.
Click "Save and Continue"
On the Special Instructions page, in the "Special Instructions" box on the second half of the page, input "Alumni Day Scholarship"
Click "Save and Continue"
Fill out the Donor Information and Billing pages, review, and submit!

Step 2: RSVPing for the weekend's activities
Fill out our survey for the weekend.


Coordinate with other alumni:  Once you've registered, join the Facebook event for the Sorensen Alumni Day to coordinate rides, room shares, and schedules.


Sorensen has arranged for room blocks at two area hotels for those who wish to stay overnight on Friday, August 29th to make reservations.  There are limited rooms available, so book early!

The Graduate Hotel Charlottesville (located on The Corner)
Rate with two Queen beds: $189.00 + tax
Rate with one King bed: $179.00 + tax
Front Desk: 434-295-4333
Cutoff date: TBA
Ask for the "Sorensen Institute block"

The Cavalier Inn (University area)
Rate: $139.00 + tax (breakfast included)
Front Desk: 434-296-8111
Cutoff date: 8/21
Ask for the "Sorensen Institute block"

Charlottesville has many other hotels in the area if you prefer to book with an alternate location.  Other hotels include:
Charlottesville Omni (Downtown Mall); Rate: approx $269.00 + tax
Hampton Inn & Suites (The Corner); Rate: approx $214.00 + tax
Courtyard Marriott (The Corner); Rate: approx $239.00 + tax
Hampton Inn (29 Corridor); Rate: approx $159.00 + tax
Hilton Garden Inn (Pantops); Rate: approx $169.00 + tax


Questions? Email Bob Gibson at

We look forward to seeing you on August 29th!

HSLP 2015: Day 13 - Thursday, July 23
Jul 23 2015 - 11:52pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 13: Thursday, July 23
Reported by: Ryan Wilson, Tuscarora High School and Josie Bulova, Robinson Secondary School

Having enjoyed an extra hour of sleep, the day began on a positive note. As is now customary, we walked to New Cabell Hall for another day in class with our professor, Marc Johnson. Today, however, something different was in store.

We participated in another General Assembly simulation, “The Budget Game.” After a brief discussion of our takeaways from yesterday’s field trip to Harrisonburg, we transitioned into the task at hand. Eager and intrigued, our group of young leaders listened intently as Mr. Johnson explained the procedures of the upcoming simulation. The objective seemed straightforward enough: with an appropriate combination of spending reductions and revenue enhancements, we were to address a $1 billion shortfall and ultimately arrive at a balanced budget.

We were initially broken into two groups, where 18 students were assigned to the House of Delegates, while the remaining 11 took on the role of state Senators. Unlike our last simulation, we were not assigned a specific legislator to represent, nor did we openly discuss party affiliation. In our respective chambers, we began the activity at 10:30 a.m., and perused each line item of the Commonwealth’s budget. From natural disaster relief appropriations to teacher-pupil ratios, and from income tax rates to the general fund, there was plenty for the students to consider. As group discussions got underway, philosophical discourse over the specifics of the balance sheet quickly ensued. Both chambers arrived at two differing agreements, just before noon.

After a quick break, we moved into a working lunch with our two conference committees, both comprised of proportional numbers of Delegates and Senators. There, we compared the budgets of both chambers, and worked under the constraints of a strict time limit. Finally, each committee arrived at an equitable consensus to present to the full Assembly. Both groups reconvened back in the classroom, and Mr. Johnson reviewed the two budgets, noting their points of contrast. We then had an opportunity to present and defend our committees’ proposals before the class, and address questions from the other side. Despite our best efforts, the simulation ended in gridlock, and we adjourned without a budget. Before retreating back to Bice, we reflected on the day both amongst ourselves and with Mr. Johnson.

Once back at the dormitory, we enjoyed some much-needed downtime before dinner. Some students ventured out to the Corner, while others chose to relax back at Bice and put the finishing touches on their policy projects. Beginning at 5:30 p.m., each group had the opportunity to appear before a panel and conduct a trial run of their presentations. As Cash Arehart, Lauren Gilbert, and the Youth Program Managers listened, we spoke about our proposed legislation and fielded questions and critiques. The remainder of the evening was spent conferring with our groups as we prepared for the big day ahead. Most of us are heading off to bed early as we anticipate our last full day at Sorensen.

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 12 - Wednesday, July 22
Jul 22 2015 - 11:42pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 12: Wednesday, July 23
Reported by: Ahmad Shawwal, Massaponax High School and Virginia Chambers, Maggie Walker Governor’s School

On Day 12, we stepped out of the finite corners of our classroom and traveled into the boundless world around us. Our journey manifested itself in the form of everyone’s favorite pastime—field trips!

The High School Leaders Program class took an exciting trip to Cave View Farm in midst of the summer heat. The farm in Weyers Cave, Va. is 2,000-acre dairy farm managed by Gerald Garber, who graciously took time out of his schedule give us a tour through his facility. At the farm, we embarked on a tour of the dairy operations, meeting cows and horses along the way. Seeing a working farm was a new experience for many of the students, most of whom are city-dwellers or suburbanites. We had a fun and educational excursion as we saw newborn calves and climbed into massive tractors. In addition, Mr. Garber shared his insights on agricultural changes in the past thirty years and enlightened us on his duties as a member on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.

After leaving the farm, the class journeyed to Harrisonburg. There, we were informed about the city’s multifaceted restoration efforts. We had lunch at Capital Ale House with Richard Baugh and Abe Shearer of the Harrisonburg City Council. They gave us unique insight into the functions of local governance. One theme that resonated throughout their comments was the intrinsic link between the small city of Harrisonburg and the not-so-small James Madison University. Both the city and university feed off of each other’s successes and work closely to solve community problems. Currently, the city is investing towards revitalizing its historic areas. Our class witnessed this process during a walking tour of Harrisonburg with Eddie Bumbaugh of the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance project. Mr. Bumbaugh showed us exciting projects like the famed Farmer’s Market, a multi-purpose community facility, and the mesmerizing Museum of American Jewelry Design & Manufacturing in a repurposed ice house.

After exploring Harrisonburg, we traveled to James Madison University, the alma mater of Lauren Gilbert, Director of Programs at the Sorensen Institute. She took us on an informal walking tour that highlighted JMU’s great academic opportunities. As we strolled, Ms. Gilbert explained the unique traditions there, like the famous monolithic limestone known as the “kissing rock”.

With our day over and the sun’s heat in full effect, the class trudged back to the bus. Some slept on the way back to U.Va., while others peered out at the countryside, lost in thought. Upon arriving, we were welcomed by the rising moon. We slept as its milky light quenched the thirst of day.

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 11 - Tuesday, July 21
Jul 21 2015 - 11:01pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 11: Tuesday, July 21
Reported by: Kiera Goddu and Dharaa Rathi, Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School

This morning we woke up bright and early to head to class promptly at 9 a.m. to hear from our first speaker, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo. He had a frank conversation with us about the role of law enforcement and how holding police accountable in a fair way is a much more difficult task than it seems. His levity and directness allowed for a very engaging and productive conversation about the triumphs and shortcomings of policing in a modern era.

Later, we heard from Katy Hurtz who represented and presented on campaign finance and transparency, or the lack thereof, in Virginia politics. Her presentation dovetailed into a later discussion in class over the validity and feasibility of campaign finance reform in the nation and the Commonwealth.

As our policy presentations are fast approaching we were all schooled in some presentation tactics from our lovely YPMs and their BuzzFeed-inspired PowerPoint.

Our final speaker of the day was Max Burns from, who shattered some dreams of working in the White House by age 25, but managed to dish out some “real talk” about careers in politics and communication. He also reassured us that Facebook experience (within reason) is an applicable work skill.

After returning to the dorms, exhausted, we all started work on our policy projects as our rough drafts are due at midnight! With graduation in sight on Saturday and a field trip on the docket for tomorrow everyone can’t wait to get some much needed sleep after these projects are finished. 

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 10 - Monday, July 20
Jul 20 2015 - 11:22pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 10: Monday, July 20
Reported by: Spencer Gilbert, George C. Marshall High School

We started off this week with a bang as we went straight into talking about policy with Mr. Johnson. Even though everyone was slightly groggy from the weekend, we were all fully engaged as we talked about policy diagrams and how an idea either does or does not come to fruition as policy. While before we were able to determine whether a policy was good or not, we are now able to determine if the political and national climate is right for a policy to be implemented. We were also taught how to make our policies appeal to both parties, which is easier said than done. Mr. Johnson then had us split off into our focus groups to apply the models to our policy projects to test their viability in the current political climate.

We kicked off lunch at 12 p.m. with some delicious Jason’s Deli pasta. We all dispersed into different lounges and continued our lunch, but a large amount of Starbucks was brought back, which pleased almost everyone (especially Ronak). Everyone proceeded back to the classroom as our first guest speaker, Barbara Kessler, arrived. She educated us on how to form a better resume, with an emphasis on big accomplishments in our life!

Then we were introduced to Chris Monioudis, who is a constituent services representative to Sen. Mark Warner. He works very closely with Sen. Warner in order to make sure Virginia is represented the right way in the U.S. Senate. He taught us about what he does and how to hear the concerns of the people of Virginia, even the ones who are very passionate about an issue. He went into detail on topics such as he different forms of communications Sen. Warner receives from constituents and the Senator's views on the recently negotiated deal with Iran.

We then heard from Alexsis Rodgers from Virginia21, an “action tank” dedicated to lobbying the General Assembly on issues that are important to young people. Ms. Rodgers spoke about her organization’s efforts to help make college more affordable, end sexual assault on college campuses, and ensure voting rights for students by allowing them to use their college ID when they go to vote.

After returning to the dorms and having dinner, most of us split up into our policy groups to work on revising our preliminary reports. At one point during the evening, someone asked Cash if they could borrow his HDMI cable so that we could enjoy a movie together in the lounge. Cash agreed, so long as everyone got together in John’s room and sang (I've Had) The Time of My Life. It was a truly fitting end to what has been a memorable first half of the program! 

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 9 - Sunday, July 19
Jul 19 2015 - 11:36pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 9: Sunday, July 19
Reported by: Nadine Lin, Douglas S. Freeman High School and Hugh Halsey, Christchurch School.

It was barely the start of the day (1:20 a.m.) when we were roused by an inconvenient cacophony that filled the halls of Bice House. As the fire alarm blared and the lights flashed, the groggy students stumbled their way out of the building oblivious to the situation at hand. Within minutes, a team of Charlottesville police and firemen managed to turn the alarm off. Relieved, we were ushered back to their dorms knowing that if anything, the fire alarms worked.

Despite, and maybe in part because of, the non-incident in the wee hours of the morning, our sleep stretched into the 9-hour range. Slumber, combined with brunch, made for happy students. A mysterious “fundatory” activity was soon to follow at half past noon. As we were separated into four groups, we learned that the “fundatory” activity was in fact two activities: a trivia game and a scavenger hunt. During the trivia component, students tested their knowledge on the topics of “Isn’t it a Capitol Idea? (D.C. Trivia),” “Isn’t Every Day Presidents’ Day? (Presidents),” and “All Politics Local (Virginia).” We learned more about history and politics through this trivia and reinforced what he had learned previously in the Virginia Capitol.

The second component was a scavenger hunt outside in the blazing, sunny, Charlottesville day. Given a time limit of 90 minutes to complete our activities—oddities ranging from telling knock knock jokes to strangers to experiencing some of the best parts the University of Virginia—we were challenged to fill our sheets with check marks. The scavenger hunt challenged groups and strengthened teamwork; all members were required to stay together while collecting proof during hunt. After 90 minutes of madly running around under the hot sun, we eventually walked back to Bice out of breath and exhausted. After long calculations, with each team vying for the win, Cash Arehart treated the winners of the competition to the privilege of pieing the Youth Program Managers. Regardless of their placement, each team had the delight of seeing their Youth Program Managers battered by whipped cream.

As the day began to wind down, we all began to focus on our policy projects and readings at hand for the next day. We began to look at our topics from a different perspective as we analyzed our sources and wrote our letters to editors and legislators. At the end of the day, we went to bed tired from the activities of the day, but prepared for our classes in the morning. 

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

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Featured Alumni

  • Craig Fifer.jpg

    Craig Fifer

    Political Leaders Program

    Class of 2003

    Craig is the E-Government Manager for the City of Alexandria. At our 2006 Alumni Reunion, Craig was presented the annual Service to Sorensen Award for the generous donations of his time, talents, and efforts to the work of the Sorensen Institute.