As part of Montgomery County Community College’s new Legislator Shadowing Program, four female students recently spent a day with female members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in Harrisburg to get a firsthand experience of leadership careers in public service.
The College’s Legislator Shadowing Program started as the result of a 2014 legislative panel discussion held at MCCC featuring Pennsylvania Representatives Marcy Toepel, Madeleine Dean and Kate Harper with College President Dr. Karen Stout as the facilitator. During the discussion, the legislators noted there are few females in the Pennsylvania legislature.
According to data reported on the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website, only 1,732 women, or approximately 24.2 percent, serve in the 50 state legislatures in 2015. In Pennsylvania, there are 45 women, or about 17.8 percent, who serve in the legislature.
To help introduce more females to the legislature, Representative Toepel proposed hosting female students so they could spend a day with her and other female legislators and learn about their responsibilities and the legislative process. Working with Representative Toepel, MCCC’s Executive Director of Government Relations and Special Projects Peggy Lee-Clark and Assistant Professor of Political Science Jodi Empol-Schwartz organized and piloted the Legislator Shadowing Program last fall with four female students, who described their visit as “informative and empowering.”
“This program provides an opportunity to help the students explore legislative careers, as we share our unique experiences as female legislators, including the work we do in Harrisburg and how past jobs have prepared us for our current positions,” said Representative Toepel. “Ideally, the shadowing program will add another dimension to what the students have been learning in the classroom.”
For the recent visit, students Caitlyn Verdin Sorian, 19, Norristown; Kayla Burnham, 20, North Wales; Rachel Glazman, 17, Schwenksville; and Rachel Lightstone, 17, Eagleville, started their day by meeting with host Representative Toepel, who shared information about her responsibilities, as well as her background. Glazman and Lightstone are both dual enrollment students, who are taking classes at both MCCC and their high schools, Perkiomen Valley and Hatboro-Horsham, respectively.
The students then observed a Judiciary Committee Meeting held in the Majority Caucus Room. The committee members discussed and approved several proposed bills and amendments on various topics, including domestic abuse, custody and the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act. The students researched the proposed bills prior to their visit.
“It was great experience to see legislators actively discussing different aspects of the bills during the Judiciary Committee Meeting,” said Verdin Sorian, who is majoring in Political Science.
Following a visit to the House Floor and observing a press conference held on the rotunda steps, the students participated in a roundtable discussion with female legislators and staff to learn more about their careers. Guests included Representative Toepel, Representative Kate Harper, Representative Madeleine Dean, Research Staff member Jen Weeter, Communications Staff member Alison Evans, Legislative Data Processing Executive Director Kathy Sullivan, lobbyist Ashley DeMauro and Deputy Director Tricia Harris. Additionally, Representatives Pamela DeLissio and Representative Mary Jo Daley spoke with the students while they were visiting the House Floor.
“The visit was a good firsthand experience in which I could actually see what the legislators do on a daily basis in Harrisburg,” said Burnham, who interns at Representative Matthew Bradford’s District Office in Norristown. “I’ve always wanted to work in a field where I could help people, and I can see myself in this role.”
The remainder of the day’s agenda included a behind-the-scenes tour and a visit to the Senate session.
The College’s Legislator Shadowing Program also enhances its existing Legislator in Residence Program, which was started in 2012 by Lee-Clark and Empol-Schwartz.
For the residence program, members of the Montgomery County State Legislative Delegation and their staffs are invited into Empol-Schwartz’s American National Government and American State and Local Government classes during each semester to provide a firsthand perspective of the concepts students read in their textbooks.
Prior to the guest lectures, students are required to research the background and positions of each legislator and develop questions for discussion. The program was expanded last fall to include legislator visits to Assistant Professor of Economics Jill Beccaris-Pescatore’s Introduction to Economics class.
~ by Diane VanDyke