Stepping out of the classroom

Students head to capitol for first-hand look at political life

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April 5, 2011

By Barbara Hein

Lawmakers talk to students
Students listen to Rep. Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph, (left); Minnesota Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, (middle); and Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, (right) during the McCarthy Center Reception at the Capitol. Hosch and Hoppe are both SJU graduates.

Politicians aren't the only people engaged these days at the Minnesota State Capitol.  On March 31, students from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University participated in "Day at the Capitol" sponsored by the Minnesota Private College Council.

For many of the 29 students, it was a taste of what life after college might be for them.

"It was great to have the chance to interact with the lawmakers and see the process they go through," CSB sophomore Caitlin Coleman said.  "To actually participate in the process instead of just watching it as an outsider was really neat, especially since this is something I hope to do as a profession in the future."

The political science major from Rogers, Minn., was most surprised by how busy it was at the capitol with all the different community groups that were there supporting or opposing the different bills being discussed.  She was also surprised that you could request to pull a lawmaker off the floor for a meeting while he or she was in session.

Hectic was the word Ryan Battis, a junior political science major from Blaine, Minn., used to describe the day.  And he loved every minute of it.

"To be given the chance, as a 21-year-old, to speak directly with the people making decisions for our state was a great opportunity," Battis said. "My state senator took time to come off the floor and meet with me.  Getting that chance to be heard is what impacted me the most."

Beyond meeting with their local lawmakers, the students received a public policy briefing and short "how to" training session on lobbying.

The Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement at Saint John's University also sponsored an alumnae/i social networking reception for the students.  During the reception, students heard from Minnesota Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove;  Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DLF-Cook; and two representatives who graduated from SJU - Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, and Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph.  The students also had the opportunity to network with lawmakers, staff members and lobbyists who are graduates of CSB and SJU.