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Bipartisanship, Public Policy Focus of Unique Emerging Leaders Program

Many young Americans are apathetic toward the government’s ability to solve problems, recent reports find. That’s not the case for 18 young adults taking part in the University of Virginia Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership’s Emerging Leaders Program. Chosen from a pool of talented applicants, the members of the program’s 2013 class believe in government officials working together to reach the best decisions for the state, regardless of political affiliation.

“Virginia’s success is all of our success, no matter what role in political leadership we fill,” wrote Christopher “Dale” Hendon, of Fredericksburg, in his biography for the program. “At the end of the day it’s about learning and growing to improve for a better Virginia.”

Jay Sinha of Alexandria wrote that participating in the program will provide “a unique chance to learn from both peers and policymakers on the theoretical and practical aspects of state government and policymaking, and the opportunity of learning how to govern during troubled times.”

The second annual Emerging Leaders Program, sponsored by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, begins Aug. 2 in Williamsburg. Kick-off events include a public keynote address by Colin G. Campbell, president and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, on Friday.

This year’s 18 Emerging Leaders Program students – Virginians ages 22 to 32 who have worked in state or local government – will spend much of the month of August in Williamsburg and Richmond, developing their leadership skills and learning more about public policymaking.

“This program gives participants a unique opportunity to hone their leadership skills while crafting legislation that could potentially be passed into law,” April Auger, Sorensen’s director of programs, said.

The participants come from across Virginia and represent a balance of Democratic and Republican viewpoints. Bob Gibson, executive director of the Sorensen Institute, said the program is the only one of its kind he knows of in the country, and that bipartisanship and ethics are integral parts of the institute’s programs.

“Good leaders learn how to be good listeners as well as good speakers,” he said. “Democrats and Republicans learn a lot from each other – like how to compromise – and they also become stronger in their own positions by understanding the other side.”

Auger added, “It’s quite remarkable to see how relationships are cultivated during the program and continue even after the program ends. Many of our Sorensen graduates, on opposite sides of the political spectrum, become lifelong friends.” 

The program’s curriculum focuses on ethics in public service, public policy and public advocacy skills. The group’s final projects will involve crafting new state policy proposals and presenting them to a panel of judges, drawn from the ranks of state legislators and academic experts in the field of government and public policy.

Three groups of six members – each with a mix of Democrats and Republicans – will develop policy proposals to help Virginians and to promote civility and trust in public life.   

Program participants include legislative aides and state employees. Speakers during the course of the program will include Campbell; Ed Ayers, president, University of Richmond; Taylor Reveley, president, The College of William & Mary; and Bob Holsworth, founder of the Virginia Tomorrow blog and founding director of the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University. 

“We’re hopeful that some of the group’s proposals are strong enough to be introduced to the General Assembly by January,” as was the case with proposals drawn up by participants in the inaugural program, Gibson said. Last year’s proposals were debated by the assembly but were not passed, he noted.

The Sorensen Institute is planning to host the Emerging Leaders Program again next year. The application process will begin in March.

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