CLP 2014: Day 3 - Monday, June 16
Jun 16 2014 - 11:02pm

College Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 3, Monday, June 16
Reported by: Dani Bernstein, University of Virginia, and Chance Stone, Old Dominion University

Today was our first day of classes, and we started by discussing ethics in politics. Lauren Gilbert gave us case studies and examples of ethical dilemmas and asked what we would do if we were in the various scenarios she gave. In one scenario, in which a state Senator had to decide whether or not to fire a disloyal staffer and whether or not to go against his party, we were each assigned a character and asked to evaluate the ethical options for each given character.
After our lengthy and interesting ethical discussion, we went in a slightly different direction and broke up into smaller groups to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of specific areas of Virginia, including NOVA, Southwest Virginia, Central Virginia, and Richmond, and then the entire state. We had a quick lunch break and then regrouped to discuss our findings. As a class, we concluded that Virginia’s biggest current problems are its infrastructure, public education, government transparency, public safety, and access to health care (and some also suggested Virginia's environment and sustainability, but that didn't make the final cut).
After another quick break, Dr. Quentin Kidd joined us and lectured us on some of Virginia’s history, including its population changes, factors that affect its economy, and the regional differences in Virginia — specifically ethnic differences, wealth disparities, and the economies of particular regions. The whole day was very informative, and the lecture itself was fascinating. We had a great first day!

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

CLP 2014: Day 2 - Sunday, June 15
Jun 15 2014 - 10:50pm

College Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 2, Sunday, June 15
Reported by: Bennie Ashton, Randolph-Macon College, and Vikhyath Veeramachaneni, Virginia Commonwealth University

The first full day of the Sorensen Institute’s College Leaders Program featured a unique approach to building teamwork and trust among the program’s participants. Beginning early in the morning, all the students participated in an outdoor ropes course challenge at the Poplar Ridge Challenge Course.

The activities began with team building and problem-solving challenges that encouraged effective cooperation within independent teams. Groups completed tasks while blindfolded, balancing on wooden beams, or atop wobbly structures, adding to the challenge of the opening activities.

Team members also participated in high ropes elements, which challenged the students to balance on a seemingly unstable wooden platform on a 30-foot pole and swing back and forth on cables after being suspended high in the air. In these high elements, students also worked together to support and safely belay each other, allowing individuals to challenge themselves without feeling that they were in any danger.

The ropes course introduced members of the College Leaders Program to the different personalities and methods of problem-solving of their team members. Learning about each another’s abilities, and sometimes even fear of heights, brought our students together and became an enjoyable experience. The elements of trust and respect the students developed for each other at Poplar Ridge will hopefully become the basis for a productive and meaningful two weeks at the Sorensen Institute. 

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

CLP 2014: Day 1 - Saturday, June 14
Jun 14 2014 - 11:00pm

College Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 1: Saturday, June 14
Reported by: Bridget Whan Tong, University of Richmond, and Christian Alcorn, Williams College

Sorensen CLP Class of 2014 has arrived! We moved in between noon and 2 p.m. into our new home in Bice House at University of Virginia. After moving in, the class had their first orientation meeting led by Lauren Gilbert, which included many introductions and stimulating discussions on what it really means to identify as a member of a political party and the importance of bipartisan leadership in today’s political atmosphere. After the introduction and orientation, we had some down time before we had dinner and gathered for a discussion with John Thomas, director of U.Va.'s Cooper Center for Public Service.

John Thomas came to speak with us about a variety of problems currently facing Virginia. He tackled the circumstances surrounding Sen. Puckett’s resignation, which varied from party pressures to district pressures to personal reasons. Thomas also covered Eric Cantor’s defeat and noted the importance of politics being essentially local. It’s interesting how this story will develop over time, and hypothesizing the media’s take on how Cantor got blindsided like this. He concluded his talk with what I believe to be the beginnings of lengthy discussions here at Sorensen: how can we start bridging the gap between the parties and start respecting each others values - especially those which we disagree with? In today’s world, we tend to only associate ourselves with like-minded individuals because that’s how we feel comfortable. How do we challenge ourselves to not only branch out and interact with differing opinions, but also to do so in a respectful manner? It’s a simple concept that has become more and more challenging in today’s world where the aisle between political parties has grown wider and wider. I look forward to exploring this in more detail in the next two weeks.

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


Sorensen Welcomes 2014 Youth Program Managers
Jun 10 2014 - 2:04pm

The Sorensen Institute is proud to announce the Youth Program Managers for our 2014 College and High School Leaders Programs:  Caitlin Casassa  (Sorensen UIP Intern 2014), John DeVilbiss (HSLP 2009), and Claire Hathaway (CLP 2012).  The Program Managers help direct our College and High School Leaders Programs, which are held each summer on grounds at the University of Virginia.  They are critical to the success of the programs, providing on-site mentoring, instruction, and leadership to our students. 

Caitlin Casassa, from Virginia Beach, is a 2014 graduate from the University of Virginia and former Sorensen Institute intern. While attending UVA, Caitlin campaigned and volunteered for the 2012 Romney presidential campaign. As a Foreign Affairs Major and Latin American Studies Minor, Caitlin researched anti-terrorism methods of the 21st century and issues concerning slums in the developing world. Also at UVA, Caitlin held numerous leadership positions where she mentored students and coached youth soccer teams. Some of her most enjoyable college experiences were studying abroad in Spain and Brazil, and the opportunity to participate in an Alternative Spring Break service trip to Trinidad where she volunteered at an orphanage and at schools for children with special needs.


John DeVilbiss is from Radford, Virginia. He attended the HSLP in 2009. He recently graduated from Virginia Tech with a B.A. in Philosophy. While there, he was a member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. He was selected for multiple leadership positions ranging from small units to strategic level planning. He taught college students time management, effective studying, project management, and professional writing. He helped create academic curriculums and orientation processes for new members. He has enjoyed learning about leadership from famous political figures, Fortune 500 executives, and exemplary military officers. He has a passion for developing leaders. He hopes to share his lessons and experiences in leadership with the rising HSLP and CLP classes.



Claire Hathaway is from Ashburn, Virginia, and is a rising senior at Radford University. She is currently working towards her B.S in Political Science, as well as minoring in International Relations and History. Claire is heavily involved in the Alpha Beta Zeta Chapter of the national service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. Through her work in the fraternity, she has received the opportunity to develop her leadership skills through community service. Her time so far in APO has strengthened her belief in the value of giving back through service. She is also involved in the Student Government Association as the Diversity Coordinator for the upcoming year. Claire is a member of the CLP Class of 2012 and looks forward to the CLP and HSLP programs this summer.

"Across the Aisle" PBS Documentary
May 30 2014 - 10:26am

The 2008 public television documentary Across the Aisle follows the Political Leaders Program Class of 2007 during its 10-month program across Virginia.

Class members come face to face with their personal biases and political limitations by arguing against their own positions, breaking down political stereotypes, spending real time with their opponents, balancing a state budget, and touring state-run facilities to learn a new and highly functional approach to politics.

Across the Aisle is a poignant and personal story that reveals a new model for political leadership, in which the most powerful tools are civility, trust, and respect.

The documentary was produced courtesy of Fred Scott, a member of the Sorensen Institute's State Advisory Board. 


Sorensen Alumni Weekend, June 6-7 at Montpelier
May 1 2014 - 3:23pm

We are delighted to be hosting our first Sorensen Alumni Weekend, June 6 -7, at James Madison's Montpelier.

This event, modeled after a PLP weekend, begins with a tour of the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women on Friday, and wraps up on Saturday with a discussion with U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy and others, including a retired judge and a co-director of the Innocence Project. In between are many chances to meet and mingle with other alumni, and we expect friendly discussions about politics and policy will continue into the night.

This event is open to all alumni.  The cost is $125 per person. If you would like to stay overnight at Montpelier the cost will be an additional $75 (shared room) or $150 (private room).  

To secure your spot, please call Tracy Tanner Bond (434-982-4943) by Tuesday with your payment information.

Sorensen Alumni Weekend
June 6 – 7, 2014
James Madison’s Montpelier
Orange, Va.

Friday, June 6
Noon          Optional lunch
2 p.m.        Tour of the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women with Albemarle County Sheriff, Chip Harding (CTP ’06)
5:30 p.m.    Reception and heavy hors d’ oeuvres at Montpelier
7:00 p.m.    Alumni after hours gathering
Saturday, June 7
8:30 a.m.     Breakfast
9 a.m.         Volunteer debates
9:30 a.m.     U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Va., Timothy Heaphy (PLP 2005)
10:30 a.m.   Panel Discussion with: Judge Steve Helvin, retired Albemarle General District Court Judge, Deirdre Enright, Director of Investigation for the Innocence Project Clinic at UVA Law
Noon           Adjourn

Announcing the CLP and HSLP Classes of 2014
Apr 15 2014 - 9:51am

We are delighted to announce the 2014 College Leaders Program and High School Leaders Program classes. Members of the CLP will meet in Charlottesville on June 14, and members of the HSLP will meet in Charlottesville on July 12. Congratulations to all!

College Leaders Program:
Christian Alcorn, Williams College; Richmond
Bennie Ashton, Randolph-Macon College; King George
Kayla Atkins, Longwood University; Farmville
Dani Bernstein, University of Virginia; New York, NY
Jack Burden, University of Virginia; Harrisonburg
Desyre Calloway, Christopher Newport University; Lynchburg
Evelyn Clark, Roanoke College; Collinsville
Tim Coleman, Hampden-Sydney College; Vienna
Nicole Falgiano, James Madison University; Woodbridge
Meredith Gillet, James Madison University; St. George
Terrance Harris, Hampden-Sydney College; Collinsville
Charlotte Horne, Randolph-Macon College; Fredericksburg
Mark Jamias, Columbia University; Suffolk
Lori Lawson, George Mason University; Newport News
Chris McGrath, Virginia Commonwealth University; Midlothian
Ray Roakes II, Virginia Commonwealth University; Richmond
Yonas Samuel, Virginia Tech; Annandale
Matthew Shapiro, Virginia Commonwealth University; Glen Allen
Chance Stone, Old Dominion University; Mechanicsville
Vikhyath Veeramachaneni, Virginia Commonwealth University; Alexandria
Bridget Whan Tong, University of Richmond; Wilmington, DE

High School Leaders Program:
Melissa Alberto, Robert E Lee HS; Lorton
Maddie Albertson, Fredericksburg Academy; Stafford
Jordan Arnold, Rockbridge County HS; Lexington
Ann Bauhan, Harrisonburg HS: Harrisonburg
Brittany Beckwith, Midlothian HS; Midlothian
Rob Braislford, Jr., Patrick Henry HS; Roanoke
Peter Brodzik, Douglas S Freeman HS; Richmond
John Campbell, George Washington HS; Danville
Sophie Crowell, Halifax County HS; South Boston
Rachel DePalma, Granby HS; Norfolk
Ose Djan, Episcopal HS; Falls Church
Galen Green, Maggie L. Walker Governor's School; Glen Allen
Kiran Hampton, South Lakes HS; Great Falls
Meredith Hooper, Albemarle HS; Charlottesville
Nikki Kothari, TJHSST; Herndon
Ashton Lum, Jamestown HS; Williamsburg
Devin MacGoy, Potomac Falls HS; Potomac Falls
William Marker, Central HS; Kenbridge
Debbie Mayo, Maggie L. Walker Governor's School; Richmond
John Metz, Maggie L. Walker Governor's School; Richmond
Robin Owens, Godwin HS; Henrico
Haden Parrish, Fluvanna County HS; Palmyra
Reshini Premaratne, Maggie L. Walker Governor's School; Glen Allen
Sahana Ramani, TJHSST; Herndon
Sam Rossi, Middleburg Academy; Leesburg
Saajan Sappal, Glen Allen HS; Glen Allen
Michael Thompson, Maggie L. Walker Governor's School; Midlothian
Kathleen Warner, Home Educated; Warrenton
Mason Wheeler, Patrick Henry HS; Roanoke
Connell Zelazny, James Monroe HS; Fredericksburg

HSLP Alternates:
Alex Workman, Fredericksburg Academy; Fredericksburg
Katie Zalegowski, James Monroe HS; Fredericksburg
Jack Jiranek, St. Christopher's School; Powhatan
Nicole Maldonado, TC Williams HS; Alexandria

EVENT: 2014 Spring Gala in Richmond
Apr 4 2014 - 1:08pm

The Sorensen Institute invites you to a Spring Gala welcoming the new administration. Join us on Friday, May 16 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center for an evening devoted to Trust, Civility and Respect in Politics. The black-tie event begins at 6 p.m.

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

Speakers include Terry McAuliffe, Ralph Northam, Mark Herring, Bill Howell, and Tommy Norment.

After dinner, the evening continues at a special alumni afterparty across the street at the Hilton Garden Inn Richmond Downtown at 9 p.m. All Sorensen alumni, including those who cannot attend the Gala, are invited to the afterparty. Potential program applicants are also welcome. (There is no dress code for the afterparty—black tie and casual attire are equally appropriate.)

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

EVENT: 8th Annual General Assembly Reception
Jan 29 2014 - 12:05pm

You Are Invited!

The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership
8th Annual General Assembly Reception

Tuesday, February 18
5:00pm - 8:00pm

Williams Mullen Center, 15th Floor
200 South 10th Street, Richmond

By Tuesday, February 11


This event, which has become a must-attend gathering in the Richmond political social calendar, recognizes our alumni in the Virginia General Assembly. Sorensen is proud to honor our 24 alumni currently serving in the General Assembly and statewide office.

This event is free and open to all Sorensen alumni, supporters and members of the Virginia General Assembly.

Sorensen wishes to thank our Event Sponsors:
Advantus Strategies
Alliance Group
Eckert Seamans
Kemper Consulting
Lindl Corporation
Macaulay & Burtch
National Filter Service
The Vectre Corporation
Virginia Association of Health Plans
Williams Mullen


*Image courtesy Taber Andrew Bain.

McAuliffe Appoints Sorensen Alumni
Jan 14 2014 - 2:24pm

Sorensen alumni have been chosen for key positions in Gov. McAuliffe's administration.

Governor's Administration

Brian Coy (CLP 2006), Press Secretary, Office of the Governor
Victoria Cochran (PLP 2007), Deputy Secretary of Public Safety
Evan Feinman (PLP 2012), Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources
Grindly Johnson (PLP 1996), Deputy Secretary of Transportation
Aubrey Layne (PLP 2011), Secretary of Transportation
John Newby (PLP 2011), Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security
Maribel Ramos (PLP 2007), Director of the Virginia Legislative Office
Felix Sarfo-Kantanka, Jr. (PLP 2004), Legislative Director, Office of the Governor

Congratulations to all!

Congratulations also go out to the following Sorensen alumni who have been hard at work on the Governor's transition team and inaugural committee.

"Common Ground for Virginia" Transition Committee:
Del. Jennifer McClellan, Chair (PLP 2001, CTP 2005) 
Jaime Areizaga-Soto (PLP 2009)
Del. Alfonso Lopez (PLP 2003)
Del. Chris Peace (PLP 2004)
Jody Wagner (PLP 1994, Fall)

Inaugural Committee:
Judy Anderson (PLP 1994, Fall)
Sen. Adam Ebbin (PLP 2000)
Del. Mark Keam (PLP 2012)
Margi Vanderhye (CTP 2005, PLP 2006)



Photo of Gov. McAuliffe's inauguration courtesy of Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office


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