2009 Legislative Fellows will witness historic session
Legislative Fellows are, from left, Matthew Stieglitz, Alyssa Koser, Lorraine Makone, Amy Clark, Brittany Schwartz, Grant Newman, Monique Liston, Catherine Brobston, Pamela Townsend, John Collins, Nicole Gentile, Jonathan Contant and Daniel Wavra.
Working with State Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, professor of nursing in the University of Delaware School of Nursing, are Legislative Fellows, from left, Catherine Brobston, Monique Liston and John Collins.
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10:14 a.m., Jan. 29, 2009----As the 145th Delaware General Assembly commenced on Jan. 13 in Dover, the 2009 University of Delaware Legislative Fellows sensed they were about to embark on a historic journey - and one that could ultimately prove to be a bit rocky.

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The 13 fellows will bear witness to the many changes brought about by last fall's election. Democratic candidates Jack Markell and Matt Denn were elected governor and lieutenant governor, respectively. Delaware Democrats also picked up three seats in the Senate for a 16-5 majority, while their counterparts in the House gained majority control (25-16) for the first time since 1985 amid the overall vote for change that swept the nation.

Faced with unprecedented budget shortfalls, the General Assembly will be struggling this session to determine what to keep and what to cut.

The fellows will have ringside seats, ever ready to provide the state's legislators with in-depth, nonpartisan research on these and other issues of concern.

A unique experience

Now in its 28th year as a partnership between the College of Human Services, Education and Public Policy's Institute for Public Administration (IPA) and the Delaware General Assembly, the Legislative Fellows Program provides Delaware students with a unique opportunity to assist legislators in dealing with critical issues facing the state.

According to Lisa Moreland, co-manager of the program and a former Legislative Fellow herself, the assembly entrusts its fellows with an unmatched level of responsibility.

“Other state legislatures have legislative internship programs,” she says, “but many of their interns conduct support services, tracking legislation, filing bills and taking notes. The kind of research our fellows are involved in is usually done by full-time professionals in other states. It's a fantastic opportunity for the students and a good value for the legislature.”

That value may be what led the selection committee to choose a record number of fellows this year, 11 seniors and two graduate students. All but one are first-time fellows.

Selected through a competitive University-wide process, fellows are assigned to work directly with the state's policymakers in the legislature's four caucuses. The fellows spend 20 hours a week in Dover and receive a stipend for their efforts.

Carpooling to Legislative Hall from Newark three days a week during the legislative session, the fellows staff committees and respond to constituent concerns in addition to their policy research. Examples of the broad range of complex public policy issues they examine include energy assistance to low-income households, credit fraud and identity theft, and school finance reform.

“The UD Legislative Fellows Program is very unique and important to the Delaware legislature,” says Erik Schramm, chief of staff to the majority caucus in the Delaware House of Representatives. “However, fellows in the House majority caucus are even more essential because of their strong participation in the committee system. Legislative Fellows keep the House committees running like well-oiled machines, and we are extremely thankful to have them be part of the legislative process.”

Bridging practice and policy, fellows also take a three-credit graduate seminar, “State Government: Management and Policy,” which includes site visits to other state capitols in the region.

According to Jerome Lewis, director of IPA and founder of the program, “It is a hands-on learning experience for these students. They are able to observe and contribute to the decision-making process while working with individuals with diverse views and values such as state and local government officials, business and community leaders, and concerned citizens.”

The lucky 13

The 2009 fellows have interests and ambitions as diverse as their duties.

For Pamela Townsend, a major in marketing and minor in legal studies, the economic downturn was actually an incentive to apply for the program.

“I've always wanted to understand the flow of money,” she says, “where it comes from, and where it goes, and who decides. I never really expected to do this, but the economy made it a really good opportunity.”

The insider's view also appealed to Grant Newman, who is majoring in political science and minoring in legal studies, sociology and leadership.

“I want to see the specific inner workings of government,” he says, “and then be able to go into the job market with tangible skills in crafting and handling legislation.”

For Catherine Brobston, a double major in mass communications and political science, the program is an opportunity to better define her career path.

“I definitely want to pursue political science,” she says. “I'm hoping this fellowship will help me determine which way to go - whether I should pursue a more nonprofit, community development route or more domestic politics.”

The fellows' assignments during the legislative session are made without regard to their own political beliefs or affiliations. But, according to Brittany Schwartz, a major in interpersonal communication and minor in political science, that's rarely a problem.

“We know we may not be assigned to the caucus that represents our views, but objective research is our goal,” she says.

Here is the complete list of Legislative Fellows for 2009:

Catherine Brobston
Major: BA '09, mass communications and political science
Home: West Chester, Pa./Unionville High School

Amy Clark
Major: BS '09, Human Services, Education and Public Policy
Home: Unionville, Conn./Farmington High School

John G. Collins
Major: Master of Public Administration '09
Home: Townsend, Del.

Jonathan Contant
Major: BA '09, political science
Minor: philosophy
Home: Dover, Del./Dover High School

Nicole Gentile
Major: BA '09, international relations
Minor: Spanish
Home: Hainesport, N.J./Rancocas Valley Regional High School

Alyssa Koser
Major: BA '09, political science
Minor: anthropology and economics
Home: Lewes, Del./Cape Henlopen High School

Monique Liston
Major: Master of Public Administration '10
Home: Milwaukee, Wisc./Milwaukee Lutheran High School

Lorraine Makone
Major: BA '09, political science
Minor: Spanish
Home: Jersey City, N.J./Newark High School (Delaware)

Grant Newman
Major: BA '09, political science
Minor: legal studies, sociology, and leadership
Home: New Rochelle, N.Y./New Rochelle High School

Brittany Schwartz
Major: BA '09, interpersonal communication
Minor: political science
Home: Lancaster, Pa. (more specifically Stevens, Pa.)/Cocalico High School

Matthew Stieglitz
Major: BA '09, communication
Home: Wayne, N.J./Wayne Valley High School

Pamela Townsend
Major: BS '09, marketing
Minor: legal studies
Home: Bethany Beach, Delaware/Indian River High School

Daniel Wavra
Major: BA '09, political science and history
Home: Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central Regional High

Graduate students and senior-level undergraduate students interested in applying for the 2010 Legislative Fellows Program should contact one of the program's co-managers: Lisa Moreland at [lisamk@udel.edu] or Bernard Dworsky at [bdworsky@udel.edu].

For more information or to download an application, visit this Web site (http://www.ipa.udel.edu/legfellows).

Article by Beth Chajes and Lisa Moreland
Photos by Mike Baker