HSLP 2014: Day 12 - Wednesday, July 23
Jul 23 2014 - 11:05pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 12: Wednesday, July 23
Reported by: Robin Owens (Godwin High School) and Kiran Hampton (South Lakes High School)

Today’s action at the High School Leaders Program began with a 6:50 a.m. rendezvous just inside the front doors of Bice House. We boarded a bus and drove to Richmond, the River City.

Inside the Capitol's House Room 2, we settled in for a series of engaging speakers. Our first two speakers were Abbey Phillips and Eric Philipkoski, legislative aides to Members of the House of Delegates. These speakers talked primarily about the daily grind as a legislative aide. Virginia has a citizen legislature, meaning that our elected officials typically have full-time jobs in addition to their duties at the General Assembly. Many of us were interested in the observation that legislative aides work to “keep the ship sailing” while their delegate is back in her district.

Next, we heard from Jeff Britt and Felix Sarfo-Kantanka. Jeff Britt is a lobbyist for a major firm, and Felix Sarfo-Kantanka is Governor McAuliffe's legislative director. These speakers spoke to the complexity of lobbying in Virginia. We were interested to hear about the complex ethics regulations which govern the profession of lobbying.

Bryan Coy, Governor McAuliffe's press secretary, was our next speaker. Mr. Coy spent most of his time speaking about how he got his current job. He said that his relentless enthusiasm and strong work ethic while working on various campaigns was a key factor in his success. Following a gubernatorial election, the new governor has a tremendous number of new positions to fill. Those who distinguished themselves helping a candidate get elected are likely to enjoy the spoils of victory.

Next we had a Republican strategist, Jeff Ryer, who told us about running college campaigns and campaigns for local office in Virginia, and even a bit about wrestling. He told us an underdog story of his high school presidency, in which he championed the less popular crowd in order to win.

Finally, we had Victoria Cochran, who is the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. She told us her story of being a public defender and dealing with hard cases, as well as being passionate about mental health issues.

We also had a tour of the Richmond Capitol, which was what the U.S. Capitol was modeled after. We discovered secrets from clocks to painting construction, and saw the last statue George Washington posed for before he died.

Next we had a tour of the Executive Mansion, which has been home to the Commonwealth’s governors since 1813. Though most of the furniture and rooms on the lower level were roped off, we discovered that after 4 p.m., Governor McAuliffe and his family have free rein over the entire house. We even found out that some of previous governors' kids jumped in the fountain or had a lemonade stand.

We then got back on the bus and traveled back to Charlottesville, where many groups started to finish up final projects and work on their presentations for Friday.

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

HSLP 2014: Day 11 - Tuesday, July 22
Jul 22 2014 - 11:28pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 11: Tuesday, July 22
Reported by: Galen Green (Maggie L. Walker Governor's School) and Haden Parrish (Fluvanna County High School)

Our bright, Tuesday morning started off with an engaging class on campaigns, featuring the scandal that occurred when former Governor McDonnell’s 1989 thesis paper was released. Mr. Johnson showed us how McDonnell’s campaign strategy allowed him to overcome this dilemma and even use it, as well as his opponent’s response to the thesis, to his advantage. We ended the morning session by watching campaign ads, comparing them, and then creating our own 30 second commercial.

Our delicious baked potato bar was enhanced with a presentation from Megan Rhyne from Coalition for Open Government. Rhyne is a lawyer, and she talked to us about our right to know what the government is doing with our tax dollars and other information. For instance, she showed us a site where we can look up sex offenders near our house. She also touched on the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), which we looked at earlier in class as well.

After lunch, we were lucky enough to enjoy a presentation from Jean Jensen on fundraising and public speaking. She recommended ways to fundraise and to feel comfortable fundraising. For instance, it can be very difficult feeling confident asking other people for money. Ms. Jensen told us why we should be confident in asking for money for our campaign and how this will make us stronger candidates. In the second half of her presentation, Ms. Jensen did an exercise on public speaking; after selecting several of the shy kids, she instructed the class to help the students write a short campaign speech. After every speech, the students received constructive criticism from both Ms. Jensen and the students.

The next presentation was by Katy Hurtz, a Sweetbriar alumna who is one of four full-time employees at VPAP. She took us through the website and showed us how useful it can be. She also explained how they got the information they posted, which everyone found very interesting. Overall, VPAP is a great, unique website that Virginians are so lucky to have and will hopefully use more in the future.

Finally, we wrapped up our class day with a really informative presentation from Ross Airington of VCU on the Affordable Care Act. As one of the few people who has fully read this document, his presentation was one of the most complete explanations of this dense piece of legislation. Everyone was engaged throughout the presentation, and came out of the presentation more informed and more interested in the Affordable Care Act.

That night in the dorms, many of the students separated into our policy groups to work on the fifth step of our project which was due at midnight. Overall, the second Tuesday of the Sorensen High School Leaders Program was one of the most interesting, interactive, and productive days. 

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

HSLP 2014: Day 10 - Monday, July 21
Jul 21 2014 - 11:48pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2014

Day 10: Monday, July 21
Reported by: Reshini Premaratne (Maggie L. Walker Governor's School) and Osé Djan (Episcopal High School)

Day 10 of Sorensen was a success! The day kicked off with speakers from OneVirginia2021, a group that supports a movement towards abolishing gerrymandering. The OneVirginia2021 fellows spoke on the history of gerrymandering in Virginia and why it is so detrimental to our democratic system. Co-founder of Sorensen Institute and founder of OneVirginia2021, Leigh Middleditch, and the Executive Director, Matt Scoble, also joined us.

Following the presentation by OneVirginia2021, Barbara Kessler joined the High School Leaders Program to provide valuable insight and experience during a resume workshop. Students pored over and delved into the different aspects of resume creation and the art of making one look appealing to prospective employers. During a fun and short activity afterwards, students paired off and shared with their partner one accomplishment that they were most proud of, and then some chosen pairs shared those accomplishments with the class.

After a delicious lunch from Jason’s Deli, the students listened to a lecture by John Thomas, Executive Director of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. Mr. Thomas addressed the racial divides in the cities of Virginia through the innovative Racial Dot Map and then went on to speak about what democracy means and how it is being applied to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Most importantly, Mr. Thomas touched on the reduction of competition between political parties in Virginia due to gerrymandering.

Later that afternoon, the students of HSLP discussed the importance of counting and numbers in public policy and what role they play in the public’s perception of political issues in their class with Mr. Marc Johnson. Students also discussed some of the issues plaguing Virginia today, such as transportation, education, and taxation reform.

Upon returning to Bice, students relaxed and unwound before enjoying dinner from Harvest Moon. The rest of the evening was filled with working on policy projects, meeting with Youth Program Managers about the culminating project, and completing the readings for tomorrow’s class. All in all, Day 10 was yet another enjoyable day at the Sorensen Institute!

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

HSLP 2014: Day 9 - Sunday, July 20
Jul 20 2014 - 11:46pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2014

Day 9: Sunday, July 20
Reported by: Sahana Ramani (Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology) and Rachel DePalma (Granby High School)

Today was the first relaxing day we hard-working high school leaders have had in a while. Instead of the bustling and chaotic mornings filled with choosing business attire and taking Pop-Tarts into the elevator, we had the chance to sleep and lazily stroll out in our pajamas to a delicious brunch in Bice House at 11 a.m.

After taking quite some time to digest and chat with our fellow classmates, we changed into athletic for clothes for our “fun activity," which was supposed to be a total surprise. For the days leading up to today, our youth program managers have constantly hinted at a secret activity. The suspense was truly killing us. We were all eager to figure out what it was, and at 1 p.m., the time finally came!

As we all shuffled into the lobby on the ground floor of Bice House with water bottles in our hands and sneakers on our feet, we were assigned into three main groups, each with a YPM. Then, we were all handed a sheet with a list of pictures, videos, and items. As you can probably guess by now, a scavenger hunt had begun.

The three teams, with their competitive spirits, immediately started strategizing to create the optimal route in order to find as many items as possible. The activities forced team members to go out of their comfort zone, communicate effectively, and do some crazy things they would have never imagined. These actions included shaking hands with a bearded man, acting like robots next to two seemingly harmless strangers, telling lame knock-knock jokes to university students, re-enacting “Snakes on a Plane”, and tracking down a two-dollar bill. Some of the most difficult items to find were a Toyota Prius, a musician, a wedding, and a U.Va. hoodie (considering the warm weather).

After the exhausting one and a half hour scavenger hunt, we returned back to the Bice House. Some of the students immediately met with their groups to progress further in their culminating projects, while others passed out on their couches.

After an excellent dinner of lasagna and salad, we all frantically took out our laptops and started working on our projects. It was a rough night and the deadline was ominous. However, by the end of the day, all the groups succeeded and had become even closer through the experience.

Sorensen has definitely been a fantastic experience thus far, and we are looking forward to all the wonderful guest speakers and lessons coming up this week. 

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

HSLP 2014: Day 8 - Saturday, July 19
Jul 19 2014 - 11:30pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2014

Day 8: Saturday, July 19
Reported by: Sam Rossi (Middleburg Academy) and Sophie Crowell (Halifax County High School)

Today at Sorensen, we had our Senate Simulation. We were divided into two groups, the Democrats and the Republicans. After electing our party leaders and committee chairs, we formed our party platforms and discussed the bills we would be voting on.

After that, we went into committees and debated over each issue thoroughly before coming to a final vote. Many of our bills didn’t even make it out of committee.

After our committee and working lunch, our bills were taken to the full Senate where everyone would vote on them. John, one of our Youth Program Managers, was often the tie-breaking vote as both parties had an even number of people. Not only did we have to vote and debate on our bill, but also we had to prepare in case Gov. Lauren Gilbert vetoed them.

This Senate Simulation was a great learning experience for us, and gave us a lot of insight into how our government acts. It became very evident to us as to why our government is seen as slow-moving or uncooperative. We are very excited to go to Richmond to see the place the real Senate actually works!

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

HSLP 2014: Day 7 - Friday, July 18
Jul 18 2014 - 11:18pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 7: Friday, July 18
Reported by: Saajan Sappal (Glen Allen High School) and John Campbell (George Washington High School)

Today, we filed into the classroom and were greeted by our instructor Mr. Marc Johnson. We started our discussion by highlighting the main takeaways from the program thus far and continued to report out our outstanding questions. We then continued to discuss the readings from the night prior.

We then ate a delicious Mediterranean lunch catered by Sticks Kebob Shop. The lunch consisted of falafel, various kebobs, hummus, and Tabouleh.

Following lunch, we engaged in a presentation by JoAnn Auger about personality, specifically the Myers-Briggs test characteristics. The discussion was quite interesting and led us to discover more about who we truly are as leaders.

Then we watched a documentary entitled “Across the Aisle.” This documentary talked about the experiences of individuals that attended Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership in the past. The documentary focused on six members from the Political Leaders Program Class of 2007. One of the members of the class won a school board election with some of the skills she learned at Sorensen.

After class was finished, we came back to Bice for dinner and got dressed up in our business professional clothes for headshots on the Lawn. The experience of taking pictures as a group truly represented how bonded we have become over the span of a few days. We then finished the night by returning to Bice and working on our culminating projects and socializing with our new friends.

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

HSLP 2014: Day 6 - Thursday, July 17
Jul 17 2014 - 11:56pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 6: Thursday, July 17
Reported by: Peter Brodzik (Douglas S. Freeman High School)

A pleasant walk to our classroom, located in the medical complex of the University’s campus, unexpectedly led to an exercise testing our ability to map various cities on a self-drawn map of Virginia; much laughter ensued.

Over the past two nights, our evening assignment was choosing and researching a public policy proposal, respective to assigned topic groups. This morning, we were divided into said groups, consisting of one person per policy group, the goal being to defend our policy proposals to our peers and collect feedback. Next came a stretch break, in order to mentally prepare us for the next item on the agenda, an intelligent, personable, high-octane speaker.

David Arehart, affectionately known as Cash, a Production Associate and Evening Program Manager at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and a Sorensen Institute alum, spoke with the group on the history and continuous development of citizenship in Virginia. We debated the enduring values of America, such as private wealth in relation to common wealth and learned that the line, “liberty or death,” is from George Washington’s favorite play, Cato, a Tragedy.

Lunch was a pleasant interlude. We were served different types of pasta from Jason’s Deli. Following our break, a second speaker visited us; Anvil Media partner and also a Sorensen alum, Sean Holihan, whose long experience with Virginia politics enabled him to give specific advice to each policy group. He gave an analysis of how our proposals may fare if introduced, as well as steps we could take to strengthen them. He diagnosed the personality of Virginia politics, offering revelatory quips, such as, “Legislation in Virginia is closely tied to cost.”

After the round of applause for Mr. Holihan subsided, our class defined facets of the branches of Virginia government, later analyzing for power distribution and checks and balances. Once finished, we were sprung with a surprise; we would be debating two issues in front of the class, with only 15 minutes to prepare! The issues were Virginia’s one-term governorship and popular election of judges. After a flash round of preparation, the debates were indeed heated and surprisingly thorough.

Returning to the dormitories, we enjoyed traditional American food, played soccer on the lawn, galloped around the Corner. Soon, we felt the tug of tomorrow, and retired to our rooms to read, finish drafting bills for the impending Senate Simulation, and socialize before happily awakening again. 

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

HSLP 2014: Day 5 - Wednesday, July 16
Jul 16 2014 - 11:59pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 5: Wednesday, July 16
Reported by: Rob Brailsford (Patrick Henry High School) and Kathleen Warner (Champions for Christ Home School Cooperative)

Today we Sorensen students took an agricultural policy field trip to the Cub Run Dairy farm. We learned about environmental concerns, the precise living conditions, nutrients and procedures necessary to own a dairy farm. Touring the facilities in which the calves, milking females, and pregnant cows are held, we learned the in depth process from calf to milk. We also toured the facility in which the cows are actually milked. The family that runs the farm was very friendly and informative.

Later we toured downtown Harrisonburg in order to learn about downtown restoration. We learned about economic development in Harrisonburg and realized, it is a lot like our home towns. In addition we also spoke with Councilmen from Harrisonburg and learned the ins-and-outs of the political system of Harrisonburg.

Finally, students ended their field trip with a tour at James Madison University (JMU). Students toured the beautiful campus and learned about the historical history of JMU from former student, Lauren Gilbert. The campus buildings were covered in the local phenomenon, blue stone.

After an informative tour we headed back to our wonderful Bice apartments. Before starting our culminating projects, we had an amazing dinner: barbeque, mac and cheese and corn bread, catered by Harvest Moon. After a laid-back dinner we then split into different groups, based on policy. Most of the night was taken up by brainstorming topics and googling statistics. Luckily, all the groups came up with great policy ideas that everyone agreed on. After that we split up to complete our own reading for class before retiring for the night.

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

HSLP 2014: Day 4 - Tuesday, July 15
Jul 15 2014 - 11:12pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 4: Tuesday, July 15
Reported by: Brittany Beckwith (Midlothian High School) and Mason Wheeler (Patrick Henry High School and Roanoke Valley Governor’s School)

Today was our second day of class. Class started at 9 a.m. with a summary of yesterday’s class. Then Mr. Johnson split the class into four groups for our lesson about Virginia’s political history. We started with the Byrd machine and ended with the present. Each group had to make a presentation based on the reading that we had done the night before with the information. After the groups were finished we each presented them to the class. Each group was graded on creativity and accuracy and overall style by the rest of class and the group with the most points won a prize.

After the presentations it was lunch time so we got an hour to relax and eat. When we finished we had our guest speakers come. They were agents from State Farm, Jon Hannah and Gary Albert. They talked to us about how the government is involved in insurance and how they work with the government to be successful. We also learned that Gary was in one of the national State Farm commercials that aired during March Madness a few years ago.

The last lesson we talked about was the Virginia Constitution. Mr. Johnson had us talk about it and create a chart of the changes that were made through the years and then we broke into groups and created our own bills. We then had a discussion about the bills and got to vote to keep the bills or get rid of them.

We then came back to Bice for fajitas and a bit of work. 

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

HSLP 2014: Day 3 - Monday, July 14
Jul 14 2014 - 11:27pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 3: Monday, July 14
Reported by: Jordan Arnold (Rockbridge County High School) and Alex Workman (Fredericksburg Academy)

Today at Sorensen we began our first day of classes. We learned about ethics in politics and how to analyze and classify an ethical dilemma.

Galen Green introduced our professor, Marc Johnson, who will be teaching us for the next two weeks. We discussed our first reading section, which included two articles from the Washington Post about the two party system and the stereotypes that have arisen from an increasingly polarized national political scene. We learned the political diversity of Virginian politics. We also went more in depth about other demographic facts about Virginia, such as graduation rate, average household income, unemployment rates, and population. These facts, supported by census surveys, conducted in various years, illustrated the regional differences across the Commonwealth.

After class, we returned to our rooms, where most of us formed small groups to discuss various sections of the reading assignment for tomorrow.  

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

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Featured Alumni

  • Jesse Ferguson.jpg

    Jesse Ferguson

    Political Leaders Program

    Class of 2004

    Jesse serves as the Communications Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

    He was Brian Moran's Chief of Staff during Moran's tenure as Democratic Caucus Chairman in the Virginia House of Delegates and was also the communications director on Moran’s Democratic primary campaign for Governor. Jesse is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and a co-founder and former Executive Director of Virginia21.