Virginia students on the front lines of legislative politics



    Interns Shannon Flowers and Marcia Blacken, with Jen Thompson, director of the Virginia Capital Semester Program

    During the 2011 General Assembly session, thirty students from various Virginia universities and degree programs had the unique opportunity to do more than just read about what their legislators were doing from afar. Through Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital Semester program, now in its 6th year, this select group of motivated and accomplished young individuals served as interns on the front lines of legislative politics and got behind the scenes experience engaging with the lawmaking process.

    Although a group of legislative interns would seem to be students interested primarily in the political process, this year’s interns represented a wide variety of interests and career aspirations. Diana Adzovie, an International Relations major, observed that “Diverse interests are not as unusual as I initially expected. The members themselves represent a huge variety of life experiences and careers, and come to the respective bodies with different things to offer the Commonwealth.”

    Even though a large number of the student interns are VCU students, others like Quinnisa Doles, a Political Science major from Norfolk State University, were excited for the chance to participate in a program that not only offers a learning experience, but a jumping platform for her eventual goal of being a city manager.

    “Through this internship I was able to observe and participate in numerous aspects of the legislative process and got to better understand the role of committee meetings as well as constituents in shaping debate over policies and laws,” stated Marcia Blacken, a junior from VCU majoring in Political Science and Economics who interned for Senator Saslaw’s office.

    “More than just my work experience, I gained a greater appreciation for my own importance to my legislator as a constituent, and for the work that they do all year long. They are people too, and I respect that,” said Kyle Easton, a junior from VCU majoring in Criminal Justice and Psychology and intern to House Majority Leader Kirk Cox.

    Through the Virginia Capital Semester Program, the students also participated in a policy making seminar taught by William Leighty, former Chief of Staff for Governors Warner and Kaine. Leighty enhances the course with his knowledge of the inner workings of Virginia’s government and by inviting guest speakers to speak with the students. Guests ranged from Speaker of the House William J. Howell to House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong, members of the press, and lobbyists who came to share their experiences and expertise with the class about their unique roles in the legislative process.

    “The internship combined with the seminar curriculum really gave us an in-depth understanding of the role of our legislators and the obstacles they have to overcome in getting legislation passed or tabled, as well as how lobbyists work and how to build effective press relations,” said Steven Forbes, a Psychology and Criminal Justice major from VCU who interned with Senator Deeds.

    Virginia Capital Semester is a competitive program that attracts students enrolled in universities across the Commonwealth. The participants are selected by a committee of faculty and state officials and placed within the Senate, House, and Executive Offices. Enrollment in next year’s Virginia Capital Semester program is now open and interested students must complete an application form, provide a current college or university transcript and a letter of endorsement from a faculty member. The deadline for applications for next year’s program is Oct. 1, 2011.

    For More Information or to arrange an interview with a participating student:

    Contact:  Jennifer L. Thompson

    Virginia Capital Semester

    Virginia Commonwealth University

    L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

    P.O. Box 842028

    923 West Franklin Street

    Richmond, Virginia 23284

    Phone: (804) 828-2339


    About VCU and the VCU Medical Center:

    Virginia Commonwealth University is the largest university in Virginia and ranks among the top 100 universities in the country in sponsored research. Located on two downtown campuses in Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 30,000 students in nearly 200 certificate and degree programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-three of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 15 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University compose the VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers.For more, see

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