Student fellows assist legislative assistants in forming policy
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 21:04
Committee meetings and research for input on state legislation are not typical priorities for college students, except for the 12 students who make up the 2013 Legislative Fellows.
The Legislative Fellows Program, managed by Lisa Moreland, an associate policy scientist for the Institute of Public Administration and public policy professor Bernard Dworsky, assigns accepted students to either the minority or majority caucus in the state Senate or House in Dover.
Dworsky said the students, known as fellows, become the right and left arms for the administrative assistants, the legislative staff members under whom they work.
Moreland said since Delaware is a small state, there is also a limited staff, which is where the fellows come into play.
“It is an opportunity for legislature to get non-partisan research that they need on issues they’re facing but aren’t able to because of their small staff,” Moreland said.
Dworsky said the program is also a good bridge between what the students are learning in the classroom and real life, especially in terms of writing and other skills.
“The real world operates on something less than a 35-55 page research paper,” Dworsky said.
Last year, the university formed a partnership with Delaware State University, allowing those students to go through the same application process, Moreland said.
Dworsky said around two to three times more students apply than are accepted. He said the program has two recruiting sessions, with the first and biggest one being held in the spring and the second in the fall.
The program is made up of mostly graduate students but also a few upperclassmen undergrads with exceptional credentials, Moreland said.
The fellows have several general responsibilities, such as researching issues of interest for the caucus. Several of the fellows are currently conducting research on hot topics such as gun control and gay marriage.
Specific legislators and committees take up the majority of the fellows’ time. They also set up committee meetings, take meeting minutes, make folders and track bills.
Senior Sam Losow, a political science major, said his favorite part has been the one-on-one time he has had with legislators. He said they give credit to his research and the work that he has done, and ask for his input based on the information he has gathered.
“I am actually able to potentially influence legislation,” Losow said.
The program can count towards fieldwork for undergraduates with political science majors or towards the field experience requirement for public policy majors.
Dworsky said the number of fellows varies from year to year due to factors such as the economy since the university and the General Assembly fund the program. Students are given a stipend, as well as transportation to and from Dover, he said.
The students went through an intensive multi-step application process before being selected for the program, including a general application, a memorandum test, a preliminary interview with Moreland and Dworsky and finally, a panel interview with legislative staff.
Senior public policy major, Alexa Scoglietti, said that the process is intimidating.
“It’s a little scary,” Scoglietti said.
The program runs from the beginning of January until the end of June, and the students are typically required to travel to Dover on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which is when the General Assembly usually meets, Dworsky said.
Graduate student Nathan Roby, majoring in public administration, said the Legislative Fellows Program was one of the main reasons he applied to the university.
“You work hand in hand with legislative aides to work on issues affecting the state,” Roby said.
While fellows are exposed to political processes and high-ranking politicians, Roby said the program is not just about politics, and is more administration based.
Moreland said the experience the students gain can be used not just in government sectors, but also in private, public and non-profit, so they know how each sector is affected by legislation.
Dworsky said the program also lends itself to a lot of networking opportunities, which can lead to further career opportunities since the state is so small.
Senior international relations major Zuneera Masood said the program has also helped her understand the media and the idea of portrayal, since the fellows are able to see the behind-the-scene aspects of several processes.
“I think everyone will say this is a once in a lifetime experience that we were really lucky to have,” Masood said.