As Delaware senators and representatives embarked upon the 147th session of the Delaware General Assembly on Jan. 8, a dozen University of Delaware students were also present in Legislative Hall, ready to begin their tenure as Legislative Fellows.
The Legislative Fellows Program — a partnership between the School of Public Policy and Administration's Institute for Public Administration and the Delaware General Assembly — enters its 32nd year with an impressive track record and a well-respected reputation. For the past two years, the program has been run in cooperation with Delaware State University.
The program has amassed more than 250 alumni including successful young graduates and established politicians, such as current U.S. Rep. John Carney.
Legislative Fellows are selected through a highly competitive selection process involving the campuses at both UD and DSU. This year, six graduate students and six undergraduate students from UD will join the legacy, commuting to Dover three days a week until the end of June to assist the state's policymakers in the legislature's four caucuses.
"The Legislative Fellows conduct non-partisan research, respond to constituent concerns and staff committees, which are pretty big responsibilities," said Lisa Moreland, manager of the program.
Legislative Fellows staff committees on a range of "issues that touch the lives of constituents in the state," such as public safety and transportation, according to Moreland.
Jerome Lewis, director of the Institute for Public Administration and founder of the program, said the experience is beneficial to both the Legislative Fellows and the General Assembly.
"It's a transformative experience for the students. They are exposed to things they haven't seen before — in politics and in life," he said. "The program provides the legislature with fresh talent every year, ideas and research capabilities that otherwise might not be so readily available."
Samuel Losow, a political science major, said the experience he gains during his time with the General Assembly will benefit him in years to come.
"Working at the legislature has taught me how to work in a fast-paced environment while fostering professionalism. I'm excited to continue my work and likely discover insight into my future career endeavors," he said.
The 32-year-old partnership between the University and the General Assembly cultivates mutual respect between politicians and students.
"The program is very well regarded by the legislators," said Moreland.
Speaker of the House Peter C. Schwartzkopf said the program is a "win-win" for everyone.
"The fellows are Delaware's best and brightest, and they are an invaluable asset to have on board," he said. "At the same time, we are able to help the fellows by involving them in the inner workings of our government and by opening doors for their future."
Ben Wallace, a graduate student in the Disaster Science and Management Program, also expressed admiration for the Legislative Fellows Program.
"It's fascinating so far," said Wallace. "I've met and corresponded with senators, representatives, judges, division directors and school superintendents. I'm grateful for this opportunity."
Moreland, a former fellow herself, believes the program provides unequaled exposure to very real challenges facing Delaware, such as the economy.
"Our students get to observe how the complex law-making process works. It's not something you can learn from a textbook," she said. "There are a lot of different people who play vital roles and you have to go to Dover to see how it really works."
Zuneera Masood, an international relations major, has observed the authenticity of the Legislative Fellows Program.
"You realize that things you hear about politics and the government are real. There are people who are working to keep the government running and the country safe. Watching that in real-time — as well as being an integral part of it — is very fulfilling."
Click here for a list of the 2013 Legislative Fellows.