Legislator Shadowing Program Shapes Future Leaders

Legislative Shadowing Program spring 16April 28, 2016, Harrisburg, Pa.—Montgomery County Community College’s Legislator Shadowing program provides an inside view of the responsibilities of legislators at Pennsylvania’s State Capitol in Harrisburg to get female students interested in public service careers.

The program started as the result of a 2014 legislative panel discussion held at the college featuring Pennsylvania Representatives Marcy Toepel, Madeleine Dean and Kate Harper. During the discussion, the legislators noted there are not many females in the state legislature. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website, there are 46 women, or about 18.2 percent, who serve in Pennsylvania’s legislature.

Each semester, Representative Toepel invites several female students from MCCC to spend the day with her and other representatives. MCCC’s Executive Director of Government Relations and Special Projects Peggy Lee-Clark and Assistant Professor of Political Science Jodi Empol-Schwartz coordinate the program, and students are required to submit applications.

Recently, six students had the opportunity to participate: Lane Alderfer, Harleysville; Taylor Gordon, Abington; Marisa Kampe, Telford; Torey Magdziak, Souderton; Sadie Magro, Collegeville; and Tiffany Zerbe, Eagleville.

“I hope this visit provides a slice of what life is like in Harrisburg,” Representative Toepel said to the students, during a working lunch. “Every day is different. And no matter what career you decide to pursue, it is important to be engaged politically and understand how the system works and affects all of us.”

The students started their day by attending a Financial Committee meeting, followed by a presentation about body cameras and related legislation. After a visit to the House Floor, the students participated in a roundtable discussion with female legislators and staff to learn more about their careers.

Guests included Representatives Kate Harper, Mary Jo Daley and Pam DeLisso, as well as Research Staff member Jen Weeter, Republican Communications office member Alison Evans, Director of Communications for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry Tricia Harris and Republican Senior Legal Counsel Jill Vecchio. Additionally, Representatives Madeleine Dean and Thomas Murt spoke with the students while they were visiting the House Floor.

The students gained much insight from the conversation.

“I loved hearing what the different women had to say. Each of them were inspiring in their own way and had different views on topics. They made me realize that women can be in office just as much as men can be,” Tiffany Zerbe said.

“I enjoyed seeing how the representatives actually govern on a daily basis, and I learned that 80 percent of them come from a variety of backgrounds other than government,” Lane Alderferer added.

The remainder of the day’s agenda included a behind-the-scenes tour and a visit to the Senate session.

MCCC Foundation’s Leading Women in Philanthropy giving circle provided a grant to cover the transportation costs for the students this year. Founded in 2013, LWIP is a region-wide network that focuses on developing women’s leadership and philanthropic skills. Through their combined contributions, members of LWIP are making an impact at MCCC by creating new opportunities for achievement, connecting and collaborating with like-minded female leaders and changing the lives of other women.

- Diane VanDyke

Legislative Shadowing

Pictured (from left), MCCC Assistant Professor of Political Science Jodi Empol-Schwartz, MCCC Executive Director of Government Relations and Special Projects Peggy Lee-Clark, Lane Alderfer, Taylor Gordon, Torey Magdziak, Marisa Kampe, Tiffany Zerbe, Sadie Magro and Representative Marcy Toepel. Photo by Diane VanDyke