At the Sorensen Institute of Political Leadership’s College Leaders Program, party lines are set aside. Participants are not allowed to disclose their political affiliations to each other.
“It bonds everybody together,” Brendan Oudekerk said. “It is really refreshing to get along with everybody…and know we are working toward common goals. Each person brings different qualities to the table.”
Oudekerk, a 2012 graduate of the University of Mary Washington, and UMW seniors Meghan Hobbs and Sean Simons are among 18 college students or recent graduates who were selected for the four-week-long summer program held at the University of Virginia.
The College Leaders Program, now in its eighth year, brings together youth leaders from across Virginia with a focus on ethics, bipartisanship, public policy and civic engagement. The Sorensen Institute was founded as the Virginia Institute of Political Leadership in 1993 in hopes it would identify and bring together Virginia’s emerging political leaders. More than 1,200 Virginian students have graduated from the Institute.
For Oudekerk, who is working toward a career in economic development, the program is a chance to network and learn more about Virginia politics.
“As a graduate, I’m using it to be more well-rounded,” he said. “It helps to come together with people from different backgrounds.”
The 18 program participants are divided into three groups – economics, higher education or transportation – to develop policy proposals. The groups will present their findings at the end of the program, in hopes a Virginia legislator will want to adopt the proposal.
One of last year’s groups actually got a bill passed, Hobbs explained.
“That’s everyone’s aspiration,” she said.
Hobbs, an international affairs and political science major, plans to attend law school after graduation, but also is interested in politics.
“I have been wanting to get a look into state politics,” she said, “so this program is really helping me with that.”
On Tuesday, June 12, the students met with Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Jim Webb at the U.S. Capitol Building.
Simons, chair of UMW’s Legislative Action Committee and an intern in President Richard V. Hurley’s office, got to introduce the senators to the group: “It was an honor to have that privilege,” he said.
When the program ends on June 23, Simons says the experience of a respectful, bipartisan atmosphere will stick with him.
“A lot of issues are played in the media as being very polarizing, but people, especially my age, are much more willing to compromise and come together to find solutions,” he said. “I have a greater appreciation for what I think our generation can do.”