CLP 2014: Day 8 - Saturday, June 21
Jun 21 2014 - 6:49pm

College Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 8: Saturday, June 21
Reported by: Nicole Falgiano, James Madison University and Terrance Harris, Hampden-Sydney College

Today we completed a Senate Simulation. We were assigned different Senators, whom are currently in office in the General Assembly of Virginia. Prior to the simulation, each CLP member was assigned a senator to research and emulate. Additionally, we each wrote two bills to be brought to the Senate for consideration.

At the beginning of the day, we met as a party caucus to elect leadership as well as decide on a party platform and legislative goals. We also discussed legislation and strategy, in order to confirm the voting of our party line. The party in power assigned committee chairs and each party was able to appoint their committee members. Throughout the committee meetings, the bills were discussed and amended. Ultimately, some bills were not able to move out of the committees, while others were able to be brought to the Senate floor.

After another caucus meeting to discuss the amendments, we met in a mock Senate setting. The Senate environment was quite tense, as both parties were very passionate about the bills brought to the floor. Although there were many upsets, we were able to pass many bipartisan bills that would positively influence the citizens of Virginia. After seeking the governor’s approval, we chose to return to the Senate to vote to overturn a few vetoes. At the end of the day, we were able to overturn one veto.

Overall, we learned a lot about parliamentary procedure and were able to get a feel for what it is like to be in the shoes of a Virginia Senator for a day. This experience taught us how easy it was for one to vote simply by party, despite their beliefs. ​ 

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

CLP 2014: Day 7 - Friday, June 20
Jun 20 2014 - 10:30pm

College Leaders Program 2014
Day 7, Friday, June 20
Reported by: Charlotte Horne, Randolph-Macon College, and Tim Coleman, Hampden Sydney College

Today was the first Friday of the two-week College Leaders Program. It has been a great first week. We have had hearty discussions on all topics, and as we get to know each other, we are becoming more open and engaged.

The first part of today’s class dealt with the Virginia Constitution, and all six of the previous Constitutions that Virginia has had. We discussed what changes occurred between each Constitution and what it meant for Virginia. These changes included expansions in voting rights throughout the commonwealth, the separation of the areas of the state due to the Civil War, and the aftermath of reconstruction. All these changes lead up to the current version, which was written in 1971.

After a short lunch break, we came back and looked at the current Constitution and went through each article to discuss sections that we believed needed to be changed or removed, and why. This led to discussion on voting rights for convicts, gubernatorial term lengths and limits, and much more. We ended class by having a guest speaker come in and help us work on our resumes. Working on our resumes has given us great skills in helping us look forward to our future presence in the work force.

We are having such a great time and we are really looking forward to engaging in a Senate simulation tomorrow to further our knowledge of the inner workings of the Virginia General Assembly.

CLP 2014: Day 6 - Thursday, June 19
Jun 19 2014 - 10:54pm

College Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 6, Thursday, June 19
Reported by: Chris McGrath, Virginia Commonwealth University and Evelyn Clark, Roanoke College

Today was an extremely busy and unique day at the Sorensen Institute’s College Leaders Program. It was the first day that we had multiple speakers come to our classroom. The first few days of this week have been filled with class time with Dr. Quentin Kidd, a field trip to a prison, and an adventure to the rope course at Poplar Ridge. Today we had multiple speakers all offering very different perspectives on their jobs and lives.

In the morning, the groups discussed their culminating projects for potential legislation with the other groups in order to receive criticism and better understand each other’s ideas. This was extremely beneficial for the students to explain their group’s project to others in order to better understand themselves and get constructive criticism.

First up today was Sean Holihan who spoke about his career path and how he got to where he is today. He started with policy dynamics within the state and his experiences working in the General Assembly. He also gave great insight on how to better improve our culminating projects. Mr. Holihan stuck around for a while after his talk to answer questions and give more career advice, which was very enlightening.

Next, Joann Auger taught the class a lot about the Myers-Briggs Personality Test and what the class’s results meant. She made the class get into groups and do multiple activities that got the students out of their comfort zones and really understanding their results. This was a great way for the students to engage with each other and truly comprehend their personality traits.

Finally, David Poole, the founder of the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), spoke to the class. He founded VPAP in 1997 and its mission has been to show transparency in government funding. He was a fascinating speaker who brought a lot of enthusiasm to the class through interactive activities involving campaign finance.

In the evening, the students enjoyed some heated conversations. As one of the Youth Program Managers said, as the students debated at lunch, “It’s finally beginning to sound like Sorensen!” 

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

CLP 2014: Day 5 - Wednesday, June 18
Jun 18 2014 - 10:13pm

College Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 5, Wednesday, June 18
Reported by: Desyre Z. Calloway, Christopher Newport University and Ray Roakes, Virginia Commonwealth University

The 2014 Sorensen CLP class departed from Charlottesville today on their first field trip and ventured southwest to the town of Chatham and the city of Danville. The curriculum for the day included a tour of the Green Rock Correctional Center in Chatham, a panel discussion on economic development in Danville, and finally, a tour of the city of Danville before returning back to Charlottesville.

The first destination was certainly one to remember as the first thing we saw upon pulling into the parking lot was an extensive, razor wire fence encompassing the prison. The facility had security measures which required all visitors to leave their photo ID in the main office area upon entering, walking through a metal detector and then receiving a pat down by one of the staff members. Once everyone was cleared to enter the actual prison grounds, we were met by Mr. Collins who was enthusiastic and engaging throughout the entirety of the tour. We were able to speak with several correctional officers, other staff and even inmates who were able to give us thorough insight about the inner workings of the correctional center.

After departing Chatham, we then headed to Danville where we met with Corrie Teague of Danville's Office of Economic Development and Wendi Goods Everson of the Danville Regional Foundation. We were able to learn a lot about the city's past success in manufacturing tobacco and textiles, its present struggle of unemployment and overall financial hardships, as well as their tireless and innovative efforts to secure a bright future for Danville. Some of the efforts that we were informed about involved targeting and educating youth as well as becoming more health conscious as a city, both things that affect positive business growth and stability. One thing of interest is that Danville is equipped with high speed broadband internet, which the city is leveraging to attract data-centers. Another goal that is being implemented is making downtown more attractive to young professionals.

Enlightened with more knowledge about Danville and the way the community works together to improve financial circumstances, we were given the opportunity to tour the city and gain further knowledge of its history with the help of Linwood Wright. Wright has had a lot of involvement in the city throughout his lifetime, serving as both mayor and vice-mayor on the city council. The tour included areas of downtown that are being revitalized, a drive through of the river district, and explored several industrial parks that are home to such companies as Nestle, Ikea, and the Regional Center for Advanced Technology and Training.

The day’s events left the CLP class of 2014 with a firm desire to further engage in community building on a local level.

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

CLP 2014: Day 4 - Tuesday, June 17
Jun 17 2014 - 11:05pm

College Leaders Program Class of 2014
Day 4, Tuesday, June 17
Reported by: Jack Burden, University of Virginia, and Matt Shapiro, Virginia Commonwealth University

Today was the second full day of classes at the Sorensen Institute, and the first that we really dove into the assigned readings for the program. We began the day discussing what constituted the typical Democrat and Republican, as outlined in two articles by the Washington Post. We then began talking specifically about the political culture of Virginia, exemplified by Route 15, which runs from Leesburg directly south through the state.

After we came back from lunch, we broke into our reading groups, which each evaluated a different period of Virginia political history. The groups began in the mid-1920’s with the rise of the Byrd Machine, and went all the way through the end of the 20th century. After discussing individually, we all came together and Dr. Kidd led a group discussion that was intended to dive into the articles further, but quickly devolved into heated discussions on such topics as gay marriage and the Tea Party. All in all, it was a very educational afternoon.

After class, everyone returned to Bice and freshened up for our group picture and headshots, which were taken in front of Old Cabell Hall in 90-degree weather. Needless to say, some guys’ shirts were see through by the end. However, we all still looked good!

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

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. 


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Featured Alumni

  • Pat Gottschalk.jpg

    Patrick Gottschalk

    Political Leaders Program

    Class of 2000

    Pat is a partner at Williams Mullen. He serves on the boards of the Virginia Economic Developers Association and the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce. Pat was Virginia's Secretary of Commerce and Trade under Governor Tim Kaine.