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.

CLP 2015: Day 12 - Wednesday, June 24
Jun 24 2015 - 11:11pm

College Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 12: Wednesday, June 24
Reported by: Michael Lopez, The College of William & Mary and Shalma Akther, Virginia Commonwealth University

After waking up very early, the class gathered at 7 a.m. to take a bus to Richmond. Everyone was excited for what the day had in store for us! During the ride, some students took the opportunity to work on their policy proposals that will be presented this Friday, while others caught up on some much-needed sleep.

We arrived at around 8:30 a.m. at the Virginia State Capitol where we went to meet our first round of speakers for the day. The first two speakers work for the government relations teams of two different universities: Ashely Myers of U.Va. and Annie Morris of VCU. They touched upon the higher education system in Virginia and how efficient and effective it has been for thousands of students. They also spoke about how Virginia’s public colleges are different since they are decentralized. In addition, we learned a great deal more about tuition increases and the measures taken this past legislative session to address campus sexual assault.

Next, we heard from Jonas Courney, who talked to us about campaign fundraising. In order to be a successful fundraiser, you have to build relationships with different individuals, persuade them why they should donate to your campaign, and have an inspirational story to gain trust and support.

After a short break, Brian Coy, the Communications Director for Gov. McAuliffe, discussed the details of his job, where Virginia was heading under Gov. McAuliffe, and answered our numerous questions. Since his job is to spread Gov. McAuliffe’s vision for the future of our state, he constantly communicates with news outlets and other sectors of the media. He emphasized the importance of strengthening relationships and valuing people.

Then Jameson Babb, Del. Peter Ferrell's legislative aid, and Abbey Phillips, Del. Jennifer McClellan's legislative aid, talked talk to us about policymaking and what it means to serve constituents. They said it is vital to empower those you represent through simple means, whether it is filing a bill a constituent requested or sending a congratulatory letter for making honor roll.

Our next special guest was the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, Victoria Cochran. She told us about how she initially got involved in politics and how her career was not a straight path to where she is now. Her story lead us to an important tip for living life: You have to be open to new career possibilities even if it’s not what you originally planned, and in the end, that openness will most likely take you to where you want to be. Through her humor and passion about the issues, she motivated all of the members of the CLP to remain open-minded and work with people regardless of their beliefs.

Afterwards, lunch awaited us, but even more exciting was our next speaker, former Lieutenant Governor and current Sorensen board Chair, John Hager. He stressed that he, like many others, did not see a political future for himself early in life. After taking many detours and having a successful career, he decided to run for office. He served as the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia from 1998-2002, and told us how it is necessary to reach across the aisle in order to get meaningful legislation passed in government. And with that, we took a great photo with our Chairman in front of our beautiful, historic Capitol.

Next up on the itinerary was a visit to the Virginia State Police Headquarters in Midlothian, where we had the pleasure of talking to the Deputy Superintendent of the Virginia State Police. We discussed Virginia’s law enforcement and different policies pertaining to drugs, traffic, and other areas of the law. After hearing from him, we split up into two groups, where we had the opportunity to meet the canine unit. In addition, we partook in a simulation that is used to train officers using various scenarios so that they can practice responding to threats appropriately. One of the groups was fortunate enough to have a tour of a museum in the headquarters as well.

After a long, productive day of learning about our great Commonwealth of Virginia, we headed back to Charlottesville. The day had worn us out, so we used the bus ride back to rest and reflect on our eventful day. A delicious dinner was awaiting us when we returned, and we gathered around to discuss a range of subjects, including what everyone took away from our field trip.  

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

CLP 2015: Day 11 - Tuesday, June 23
Jun 23 2015 - 11:30pm

College Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 11: Tuesday, June 23
Reported by: Graves Anthony, Hampden-Sydney College

The morning started off as usual, with the walk from Bice House to New Cabell Hall for the classroom portion of the College Leaders Program with Dr. Quentin Kidd. Our discussion ranged from revenue shortfall and service fees to future Supreme Court rulings. Dr. Kidd led the class in a lively discussion of the debate over Medicaid expansion. He said that the debate was not really about whether or not the 4 thousand Virginians should be covered. Instead, he suggested that the debate was about whether or not the Commonwealth could afford to pay for those 4 thousand Virginians once the federal government raises the amount the states would pay from zero to ten percent over the period from 2013-2020. That debate lead the class into a discussion on whether the United States truly has great healthcare when compared to other similar nations. The class finished in concurrence stating that we do have great healthcare for some, but that others have no healthcare at all.

After a delicious lunch from Jason’s Deli, we were ready to learn what we could do to better market ourselves in the fast-paced job market. Barbra Kessler of the University of Virginia’s Career Services led us in a resume workshop. She graciously accepted our resumes and agreed to give us feedback on what we could improve.

Next, Cash Arehart regaled the group with information on how to present yourself in a public forum or in the boardroom. Cash’s personality was infectious as he challenged us to stand at the front of the room for a period of 45 seconds and stare at the class. This was to test us and see how we would react to commanding a room. We learned from him that the best way to command a room wasn’t through yelling, but by having more of a presence and by being patient and quiet before you have something important to say.

Our final speaker of the day, Max Burns, lead the class in a discussion on social media and the crucial role it plays in electoral politics. Max captured our attention with his witty comments on politics and how certain people use social media. He taught us that Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul have the best social media presence out of those who are running for president in 2016. We also learned that despite what many people may think of him, Rick Santorum has a surprisingly well-structured social media presence. Burns also spoke about Newt Gingrich’s love for technology. Newt has a great social media presence and does most of his social media himself. I found Max Burns's talk on the role that social media plays in electoral politics to be very fascinating.

In the end, I learned that no matter what you do—whether it be healthcare, resumes, or social media presence— there is always room for improvement.

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

CLP 2015: Day 10 - Monday, June 22
Jun 22 2015 - 11:39pm

College Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 10: Monday, June 22
Reported by: Ryan LaRochelle, Christopher Newport University

The College Leaders Program was very fortunate to host a number of distinguished speakers this Monday. Alexis Rodgers from Virginia21 was the first of those speakers. She spent the beginning of her presentation covering the basic premise of Virginia21 and then went into an overview of some of the ideas they have seen or supported for higher education legislation this past session. One of my classmates, Graves, asked Ms. Rodgers what other things Virginia21 had worked for beyond higher education. While having a conversation about higher education reform is an important topic for students, there is certainly a lot more that young voters are concerned about. For the most part, campus sexual assault and affordable tuition were the main topics discussed.

The next round of speakers was Chris West and Traci DeShazor who were the field director for Congressman Robert Hurt (VA-5) and the Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs for the Commonwealth of Virginia, respectively. Mr. West spoke about how different kinds of work are done at a Congressman's district office and D.C. office. District offices are geared mostly towards constituent services, while D.C. offices are centered on everything that comes with crafting legislation. Ms. DeShazor talked about her role as an advocate for the Commonwealth of Virginia in D.C. Both emphasized that they care very much about bipartisanship as a way to get positive work done and how they believe that public service is all about giving back.

Our last speaker for the day was Katy Khurtz from the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP). She gave a very thorough explanation of what the organization does and how extensive it is in its mission to bring transparency to the citizens of the commonwealth. It was quite amazing to see how much information VPAP was able to collect and organize given how small their workforce is. Any information you would ever want to know about Virginia state legislators is available on the site, along with an extensive collection of demographic info and campaign finance information. I would love to see this sort of project extended to other states and the national government as well.

The last portion of the day was a long session with Dr. Kidd talking about the science behind policymaking and then a discussion about Dillon’s Rule. The main discussion about policymaking was how long the process takes. Welfare was the main example he used to explain this concept. Welfare began with FDR and was expanded 20 years later under Kennedy and Johnson when it became apparent that Social Security alone could not get the job done. The “Great Society” added a number of programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Twenty years after that, sentiments that welfare was still not working properly led to Reagan’s and Clinton’s efforts to scale it back. We live today under that legacy and are beginning a new period in which we will see whether the Affordable Care Act will be successful or if another path is needed.

The discussion on Dillon’s Rule revolved around how state governments relate to local governments. Dillon’s Rule means that local governments are dependent on state governments to make changes and set policy. Overall, it seems that Dillon’s Rule is somewhat embedded in the culture and history of Virginia, but has been detrimental to the growth of some of our major urban areas. It was a very informative discussion and a very enlightening day for our study of Virginia politics.

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Featured Alumni

  • Ashley Mick.jpg

    Ashley Boyd Diette

    College Leaders Program

    Class of 2004

    Ashley is government teacher at Hampton Roads Academy and a former director of alumni development at Christopher Newport University. She previously served in both Governor Mark Warner's and Governor Tim Kaine's administrations. She also serves on the Sorensen Institute's Hampton Roads Regional Advisory Board.