HSLP 2015: Day 8 - Saturday, July 18
Jul 18 2015 - 11:03pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 8: Saturday, July 18
Reported by: Kyle Campbell, Salem High School and Elizabeth Rountree, Douglas S. Freeman High School

The morning started out later than usual, as class didn’t start till 10 a.m. The morning half of the General Assembly Simulation started out with each party going to caucus. In the caucuses the two parties were to determine what type of legislation to promote and what their party platform was going to be.

In the Democratic Caucus first elected a minority leader and a party whip. After the election of those two positions, they appointed the party treasurer and secretary. During the Republican caucus, they split up which senators were to report to which committee. There were three total committees, and only one was in the Democrats' control. The three committees were Government Services, Redistribution, and Regulation.

The Government Services committee was a wild one! After debate on four bills, a brave Senator Edwards motioned to remove fellow Democrat Senator Alexander from the position of chair of the committee. The motion went through successfully and a new chair was elected, only this time it was a Republican, Senator McWaters. That was completely opposite of what was intended to happen and the Democrats lost control of the only committee they had a majority in. After much heated debate and another attempt to remove the chair of the Government Services, the Senators got lunch. The Senators ate their boxed lunches from Jason’s Deli and continued to push and fight for and against bills.

After the committee phase the Senators had roughly 15 minutes to deliberate with their fellow Senators before they went back to caucus.

After committee meetings this afternoon, we took the passed bills back to our caucus to discuss them. While meeting in our caucuses, we talked about how we wanted to proceed with the session. The Republican Caucus relied on their majority leader and Lieutenant Governor to place the bills in the approved order. In the meantime the rest of us discussed which bills to pass and which bills to kill. The Republican Caucus tried to guarantee that the Republican bills would pass, but compromised to let some of the more bipartisan bills pass from the Democratic Party. Then we continued on by meeting in the session. We discussed and voted on several bills, which the great "Governor Arehart" vetoed. After an extended period of time which included lots of notes, some yelling, and "jiggery, pokery, and pure applesauce," we managed to end passing seven bills. Most were passed unanimously or nearly so. Finally, we ended the school day by reflecting on what we learned from the experience.

After returning to the dorms, we were treated to Mellow Mushroom pizza for dinner. It was a huge hit among all of us! Later on, we all gathered downstairs for a movie night. And ended the night by getting to stay up extra late because John, our Youth Program Manager, is awesome. Overall, it was an great day! 

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

HSLP 2015: Day 7 - Friday, July 17
Jul 17 2015 - 11:54pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 7: Friday, July 18
Reported by: Angus Dawson, Douglas S. Freeman High School, and Jordyn Kent, Maggie L. Walker Governor's School

As yet another long day comes to an end, it leaves us with moments of enlightenment, frustration, and hilarity. From coffee spills to Obamacare, and from hour-late lunches to online redistricting games, we’ve learned that the only thing we can ever really do is M.A.R.F. (Maintain Absolute Rigid Flexibility) it on up.

Today’s 9-to-5 was packed full of guest speakers that imparted their wisdom to us. Our first guest was JoAnn Auger who talked with us for a solid two hours (in the fuzzy, sleep-deprived haze of the morning) about Myers-Briggs types and emotional intelligence. Her insight gave us the tools we need to better understand one another’s personalities and strengthened the bonds within our policy groups.

A representative from State Farm named Gary Albert joined us to discuss regulatory policy from a financial perspective and impart years worth of experience onto us. We learned about Roth IRAs and investment portfolios even though the Department of Labor says we’re supposed to pay him for his financial planning expertise.

After Mr. Albert’s visit, lunch mysteriously failed to arrive, so Cash spoke to the group about public speaking and presentation, including the "Four P’s" (Purpose, Plan, Presence, and Phollow Up) and the previously mentioned “M.A.R.F.” Then lunch arrived from Chipotle, but many of us discovered to our dismay that our orders were completely incorrect.

We were then visited by Beau Blevins, the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the Virginia Association of Counties, who illustrated the relationships between local and state governments and discussed the implications of Dillon’s Rule.

Next we heard from Hayley Lawrence of OneVirginia2021. Hayley described the purpose of OneVirginia2021: to pass legislation establishing an independent, nonpartisan board to redistrict the Commonwealth fairly, reducing or even eliminating gerrymandering. She also stressed the importance of fair redistricting.

At the end of the day in class, we heard from Ross Airington, the health policy analyst at the VCU Medical Center and an expert on the Affordable Care Act. He described in detail the effects of the ACA, but lightened the load of such a dense topic by being absolutely hysterical (for instance, his Xbox gamertag is XxLOLobamacarexX).

As the day came to a close, everyone split off to play ultimate frisbee, explore the Corner, or work on their policy projects. With the sunset and the end of our seventh day at the Sorensen Institute came sighs of relief and the general feeling of contentment as we look forward to the coming weekend. 

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

HSLP 2015: Day 6 - Thursday, July 16
Jul 16 2015 - 11:59pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 6: Thursday, July 17
Reported by: Giovana De Oliveira, J.R. Tucker High School and Ellen Yates, Charlottesville High School

Lessons are hard. Often they are unwelcome. They mean determined concentration, ample effort when you have little energy left to give, and perseverance in every area of the subject at hand—and we had two today.

One, of course, was a matter of of learning the complexities of Virginia’s intricate political system, challenge enough amidst the the flood of history and politics we’ve already received (one might liken it to drinking out of a fire hose).

The second subject was more a lesson in human nature. Creating the beginnings of a law seemed unreasonably easy before we realized that policy is hardly ever sweeping reform, and our opinions as a class are extraordinarily diverse. These lessons, however, were unknown to us as we crawled from bed this morning.

At 8 a.m. we Sorensen students dragged our fatigued bodies across the room. Outfits were being coordinated amongst roommates, breakfast cereals were rapidly consumed, and everyone was indulging in as much caffeine as possible (the previous night having been a late one for the majority of us). The third level of Bice was buzzing with excitement as we headed down to the first floor. Armed with new information from the previous day’s trip to Richmond and led by our ever-devoted Youth Program Managers, we trooped to class to begin the third session of "The Informed and Thoughtful Citizen" with Mr. Johnson.

We had a variety guest speakers today. One was Sean Holihan from Anvil Strategies. He gave us crucial advice on how to improve our public policy projects, including ideas regarding demographics in Virginia as well as regional impacts that would facilitate the passing of legislation. He also suggested we narrow our focus in order to make our policy projects more manageable and feasible.

Our second speaker was Howard Hoege from 3H3 Leadership. He tapped into the passionate and personal aspect of public policy. He shared anecdotes about his own journey serving in the military and how that experience impacted his perspective on policy issues. Hoege had us share the issues we were passionate about and what triggered that passion, opening the class up to the importance of personal motivations and experiences in politics.

Next we broke into focus groups to share our policy ideas with classmates from separate policy project groups. The idea was that we could each listen to the other proposals and share constructive criticism. Needless to say, a group of strong personalities passionately discussing controversial issues was trying at times, but as always at Sorensen, the conversation remained civil, if impassioned. No one of us is remotely the same, so evidently neither are our ideas, but I think this difference consistently enriches and improves our experience of the program and of each other.

When class adjourned, we headed back to Bice for scrumptious Southern comfort in the form of BBQ (Thank you, Harvest Moon Catering!), only to subsequently clamber into our business professional attire for headshots in the surprisingly dry evening.

After pictures, we dispersed out onto the U.Va. Grounds and surrounding area. Some decided to go to the store and buy ice cream, others went to the Corner, and a few studious individuals stayed inside to work on writing bills in preparation for our upcoming Virginia Senate simulation.

As we crawl into our warm beds, we think about the lessons we learned today: the structural complexities of Virginia’s government, what it means to be a leader, the art of mastering specificity in writing a bill, and the skill of insightfulness when dealing with opposing views. As we close our heavy eyelids, we wonder what tomorrow holds in store for us. 

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

HSLP 2015: Day 5 - Wednesday, July 15
Jul 15 2015 - 11:59pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 5: Wednesday, July 15
Reported by: Christina Shaw, Patriot High School and Jack Salm, Broadwater Academy

The day started at 6 a.m. with a frantic rush to catch the bus. It was a long ride to Richmond, and everyone spent the time napping. We arrived at the Capitol half asleep, but soon settled in to listen to speakers in Senate Room 3.

Our first speakers were Felix Sarfo-Kantanka, legislative director for Gov. McAuliffe, and Jeff Britt of McGuireWoods Consulting. They spoke about the different aspects of lobbying, and compared the public and private sector. After them was Brian Coy, the Governor's communications director. Levar Stoney, Secretary of the Commonwealth, talked about campaigning and the requirements of his job.

After lunch, legislative aides Jameson Babb and Abbey Phillips talked with us about the work LAs do and about interning for campaigns.

On our tour of the Capitol, we ran into Gov. Terry McAuilffe and he took selfies with us. We then toured the Governor's Mansion, where we met Finnigan, the Governor's dog, as well as the his chickens. We then spent a few minutes taking pictures on the Capitol steps. We got on the bus with energy and knowledge, ready to return to Charlottesville.

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

HSLP 2015: Day 4 - Tuesday, July 14
Jul 14 2015 - 11:09pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 4: Tuesday, July 14
Reported by: Harrison Premen, Kettle Run High School, and Kate Price, Sherando High School

The alarm sounds. My roommate Ronak and I leave our room to prepare for class. Little did we know fate had some fun in store for us.

When we left our room, the door automatically locked behind us with our key cards still inside the room. Obviously, we panicked. While Ronak started to borrow clothes from another student, I frantically ran around the dorm trying to find one of the Youth Program Managers. Eventually we were able to access our room and finally get dressed for class.

After recovering from this little episode, I was immediately thrown into a rigorous project. Sorensen students were tasked with reading a certain part of Virginia history and then talking amongst ourselves, basically being one another's teachers. Through this activity we were able to understand how the political world of Virginia evolved from the Byrd machine to the two-party system.

Presentation time! As the first group, including classmate Luke Basham, made their way to the front of the room, students' eyes were drawn to the chalkboard, which now read, "The Basham Factor.” The next thing we knew, the theme song to The O’Reilly Factor was blaring. Immediately, the whole class was full of laughter as students acted out a parody of the show while conveying important information about Virginia’s political history. We all had to get in touch with our creative side today as we were testing new and interesting ways to teach other students about the Virginia's rich history.

After this session with our teacher Mr. Johnson, Sorensen staffer Cash Arehart begin to teach about citizenship and Constitutional rights. Like every class so far, this session was full of debate and new ideas brought up by my classmates.

After lunch David Skiles, a lobbyist, came in and shared with us the ins and outs of his profession. Finally, Sorensen's director of programs Lauren Gilbert ended the day with thoughts about community service and political involvement. We learned as a whole that we, as young people, can really make a difference in our community and influence our peers to get involved as well. Overall, today was another great day at Sorensen.  

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

HSLP 2015: Day 3 - Monday, July 13
Jul 13 2015 - 11:02pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 3: Monday, July 13
Reported by: Ronak Chopra, South Lakes High School, and Cat Johnson, Charlottesville High School

Although we woke up to grey clouds and rain, our day was anything but gloomy.

At 8:40 a.m. we headed out to our first class, Ethics in Leadership, taught by Lauren Gilbert. We discussed different types of ethical dilemmas, different philosophies used to make decisions, and how ethics can affect one in life and in politics. We learned that an ethical dilemma is choosing between “right vs. right” instead of “right vs. wrong.”

At twelve, we took a break for lunch. We had a delicious assortment of pastas, salads, and desserts. During lunch we broke into different groups based on the regions of Virginia and discussed things we thought our community and Virginia as a whole does well and things they could work on. When we got back together we narrowed down what we thought Virginia could work on and different themes for the policy project.

After that it was time to meet our professor: Mr. Marc Johnson. His lecture was an in-depth analysis of Virginia's demographics. After he finished we discussed whether Virginia was a blue or red state, and why. After heated debate, we were dismissed and returned to Bice House, where we ate and relaxed before a fundatory game of charades.

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

HSLP 2015: Day 2 - Sunday, July 12
Jul 12 2015 - 11:43pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 2: Sunday, July 12
Reported by: Mary Alice Kukoski, Saint Gertrude High School and Jack Beedle, Salem High School

The 7 a.m. start was a shocking change of pace for many of these young leaders. However, despite the initial shock, we all rallied around the general anticipation and excitement for this new activity. It was day one and spirits were high.

The day’s plan was simple: overcome a variety of unique obstacles and rope course elements through teamwork. This served to strengthen the bonds that had begun to form the night before. New acquaintances quickly became solid friends because of the teamwork-focused environment. This environment had one rule: "No Negative Language."

First came a series of small games that broke down our preconceptions of our classmates and introduced the tenants of teamwork that were a core aspect of the day’s activities. The course instructors took us out of our comfort zones through physical challenges and through forcing us to interact with people that we didn’t know. This brought us together as a group rather than as just individual friends.

The two prominent attractions were the high ropes elements. One was a massive wrecking ball where the students were the ball. What made it special was that it was fun and required teamwork. Each time a student was going up to the top, all of the other students worked below to support the climber, thus forcing us to do something for others rather than ourselves. The second of these high ropes elements was "The Pampers Pole," named after the brand of diapers, and rightly so! It was a 24-foot pole, made more of terror than wood. The goal was to climb to the top, stand on a small wobbly platform, and then jump to a small rope hanging several feet above. Needless to say none of us found total success, but the attempts were what truly mattered and formed these new bonds.

Encouragement, civility, and a dedication for everyone to enjoy themselves are what made this day so great. Day one might be over, but our journey has only begun.

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

HSLP 2015: Day 1 - Saturday, July 11
Jul 11 2015 - 11:42pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 1: Saturday, July 11
Reported by: Reagan Bracknell, Princess Anne High School and Ryan McDowell, Chatham High School

Although some people had trouble—from flat tires to thunderstorms—getting to Charlottesville, everyone arrived at Bice House with smiling faces and amazing attitudes!

Because we had already gotten to know each other a bit through social media, it was really easy to integrate ourselves into the group. After we had a mini-reunion, finally meeting everyone face-to-face for the first time, Cash Arehart welcomed us to the program and took us on a tour of U.Va.'s Grounds.

On the tour, we visited the main sights of the Grounds, including the Rotunda and the bookstore. Even though there were amazing sights to see, everyone was fascinated by the Whispering Wall. I won’t spoil the majesty of the wall for you, but you have to stop by it.

Following our tour, we returned to Bice for an orientation to the program. After we were introduced to the rules and expectations of Sorensen, we began to get to know each other. This orientation allowed us to get acquainted with the institute and the participants!

While we enjoyed a delicious meal, we had the great honor to meet with Mr. John Thomas, the director of the Cooper Center for Public Service. He was kind enough to give us great insight on the current happenings in Virginia, covering hot topics like party polarization and gerrymandering.

Next we played an intense game of "Super Sweet Sorensen Bingo". This helped us break the ice and meet new people. The class started bonding quickly at an ice cream social and carried over to an adventure to the Corner. A game of football soon started, with "the dream team” being defeated by the underdogs.

I already know this is an excellent opportunity and can’t wait to get to know everyone.

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

CLP 2015: Day 14 - Friday, June 26
Jun 26 2015 - 12:51pm

College Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 14: Friday, June 26
Reported by: Robbie Bradshaw, Old Dominion University

On a normal morning where the time of arrival is 10 a.m., the majority of alarm clocks in Bice House go off at 9:30 a.m. However, today was completely different and not normal. Today was the last day of class for the Sorensen Institute College Leaders Program.

The majority of us were nervous, as we were about to present our policy proposal projects to a panel of distinguished guests. We woke up a few hours early in order to practice with our groups. I was told to be in Sarah’s room by 9 a.m., but it was a late morning for me, and I arrived at 9:05 with the help of Michael Lopez. After practicing our presentations, we marched over to New Cabell Hall gleaming with confidence and a little bit of anxiety.

When we arrived in the classroom, everybody was anxious to begin. I heard numerous statements including, “I just want this to be nervous,” and, “My legs won’t stop shaking.” We were all nervous because the prestige of our panel of judges was extremely intimidating. The medical cannabis group, of which I was a part, made sure to befriend all of the panelists in order to get on their good sides. Cash began the proposal by introducing each panelist, which included the likes of Sen. Bryce Reeves and our own Dr. Kidd.

The education group was the first to present. Their bill lock in college tuition rates for all freshmen at each public college or university. My group, the healthcare group, went second. Our bill looked to extend the Code of Virginia to allow HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis patients to use medical marijuana without facing prosecution. The next group wanted to increase the efficiency of the Port of Virginia. The last to present was the regional inequality group, which devised a plan that they called “Activate Virginia.” Activate Virginia looked to bring large businesses to the Southwest and Southside regions of Virginia by including a ten year corporate tax exception incentive. After our presentations were complete, we talked with each of the members of the panel to get their insight on how we might pass our bills.

Shortly thereafter, Jason’s Deli showed up with lunch for our class. During lunch we said our last thank you’s and goodbye’s to Dr. Kidd for all of the knowledge he has bestowed upon us.

We capped off our final day with a wonderful dinner at Horse & Hound Gastropub. Some had the half rack of ribs, while others enjoyed delicious, juicy cheeseburgers. During dinner, Cash and the Youth Program Managers handed out our class superlatives. Nathan won "Most Likely to Tell It Like It Is," Michael Lopez won "Best Sense of Humor," and I won "Most Likely to Tweet Their Vote," because apparently I tweet more than anyone else. Overall, the day was a wonderful way to finish off our time here at Sorensen. We are all going to miss Sorensen and each other. 

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

CLP 2015: Day 13 - Thursday, June 25
Jun 26 2015 - 12:04am

College Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 13: Thursday, June 25
Reported by: Jacob Perry, The Ohio State University

Today, the College Leaders Program took on the infamous Budget Game simulation. After being briefed on the fictitious $1 billion dollar budget shortfall facing the Commonwealth of Virginia, students were assigned to either the House of Delegates or the Senate and charged with balancing the budget in a long committee meeting.

The first order of business for each body was to organize committee leadership. In the House, Jacob Perry was elected Committee Chair and Ryan LaRochelle served as Clerk. In the Senate, Nathan Britt was elected Committee Chair and Shalma Akther served as Clerk. The Chairs then began to lead their respective committees in the rather daunting undertaking.

After taking the time to read through the budget in its entirety, the committee members took turns voicing their initial thoughts about spending priorities and fiscal strategy. With the preservation of state jobs and education funding in mind, the House began to parse through the budget item by item and make spending cuts where the committee members could agree with relative ease. The second phase of spending cuts and tax increases was a bit more difficult to work through, but the House members were willing to compromise and make tough decisions. In the Senate, committee members worked to keep tax increases to a minimum while reining in the shortfall with targeted spending cuts the chamber could agree on.

Once both houses passed their budgets, their Committee Chairs went into a private meeting to compare budgets and lay the groundwork for the full meeting of the General Assembly yet to come. The House budget emphasized state job retention but at the expense of reasonable tax increases whereas the Senate budget emphasized lower tax increases but cost the state lots of jobs. The Chairs found a way to completely balance the budget while compromising on both fronts with more limited tax increases and aggressive spending cuts that still retained almost all state jobs, and worked to build consensus in the full meeting. After adopting an amendment to the compromise budget proposed by the Senate, the full General Assembly voted to pass a balanced budget. Hours of tough decision making and compromising had paid off.

Having successfully addressed the budget shortfall in the simulation, the CLP students met with their policy proposal groups to finalize their reports and practice their presentations. In anticipation of pitching their proposed legislation to the panel of experts the next morning, the students found a renewed drive to perfect their work. As the evening drew to a close, the excitement about the upcoming presentations was mounting. 

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

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Featured Alumni

  • Robert Hurt.jpg

    Robert Hurt

    Political Leaders Program

    Class of 2000

    In 2010, Robert was elected to the U.S. Congress, representing Virginia's 5th District. Robert previously served in the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate.