Like many college students his age, Allegheny senior Pasquale “Pat” DiFrancesco of Wexford, Pa., is looking forward to the final semester of his senior year.
But unlike his classmates, DiFrancesco will spend most of his last semester making daily trips to the state Capitol, in addition to completing his Allegheny schoolwork. After all, he has interviews with legislators to conduct and a piece of legislation to draft.
DiFrancesco will be participating in this experience as one of eight students awarded a Pennsylvania House Legislative fellowship for the spring semester. The highly competitive fellowship, which was founded in 1982, places students in leadership offices in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The 13-week program also provides fellows with access to weekly workshops with key thinkers, planners, and decision-makers.
“Pat is a great fit for a program like the PA Legislative Fellowship Program. He has a well-developed vision of how he wants to serve and is driven by a desire to make a real difference in people’s lives,” says Patrick Jackson, Allegheny national fellowships adviser and visiting assistant professor of history and religious studies. “It’s hard to imagine a better place to try to do that than in state government. Pat also is confident and impressively poised. And since political progress is so often made under intense pressure, I suspect that this will serve him well in Harrisburg.”
DiFrancesco, a double major in political science and environmental studies, will be working in the office of Democratic Whip Mike Hanna. Prior to winter break, we caught up with Pat to talk about this unique opportunity.
How did you learn about this fellowship?
For two summers I worked at the Fund for American Studies, an academic internship placement organization, in Washington, D.C. While working there, someone told me about the fellowship. So I really found out about it through networking.
My whole goal when I came to Allegheny and was accepted into the AmeriCorps Bonner Scholar program was to do my summer service away in Washington, D.C. I always figured that if I could get into a place like D.C., then there would be a way to go back again. I found that “in” through the Fund for American Studies. Then everything just built and built.
What did you have to do to apply for the fellowship?
I had to complete an application, submit letters of recommendation, and do an in-person interview in Harrisburg. During the application process, I worked with Professor Patrick Jackson. He was a big help.
How does it feel to be going to Harrisburg?
I’m excited for it. Once I get home, take a breath, and start to prepare, it will really sink in. I’ll really start to feel it.
This is where I wanted to be. I wanted to be in public service. I wanted to be in government. I’m not sure if public service is ultimately for me, but I think this experience will really hammer home on whether or not I want to do that.
What will you do during your fellowship?
Once you hear that you are accepted to the program, you have to be accepted to an office. It can be a committee or leadership office. I will be working for Rep. Mike Hanna. He’s the second-most powerful democrat in the House of Representatives, so it’s fantastic for me.
From what I understand, some of my tasks will be:
• In-office work
• Meeting with constituents
• Policy analyses
• Keeping a journal
• Interviewing a representative or someone who is involved in the legislative process
The main thing I’ll get to do is draft my own piece of legislation. I’ll work with lawyers and meet different speakers and representatives. They will help us formulate an idea for what our bill will be and help us structure it at the end. Once we write that piece of legislation, we also will give a presentation on it in the House Caucus.
In addition, I hope to attend the incoming governor’s ceremony. I think it’s going to be a really fun time to be there because there’s so much going on with the switching of the administration.
You also will be completing schoolwork during this time, correct?
Yes, I’ll still be a registered Allegheny student working toward 12 credits. One of the classes I’m doing is an independent study with Assistant Professor of Political Science Zachary Callen. The study will be related to state legislature behavior, so Harrisburg will be a great place to reflect and apply the academic readings I’ll be doing. I’ll also have an internship with Environmental Science Internship Coordinator Steve Utz.
In addition, I’ll be finishing my senior comp, which is on the severance tax policy in Pennsylvania. I’m looking at the policy to see how it can best account for environmental impacts that are accrued by the drilling processes. Through the fellowship, I’ll have the opportunity to sit in and watch anything that pertains to that kind of legislation or that topic, so I’ll get to build that into the senior project.
What else have you done at Allegheny?
I feel like I have taken full advantage of what Allegheny offers. In addition to serving as a Bonner Scholar, I have served as treasurer of Allegheny Student Government, as a reporter for the Campus, as a project leader with the College’s Center for Political Participation, and as a student representative for the College’s Finance and Facilities Committee.
What do you plan to do in the future?
I hope to work for a year or two and then go on to graduate school.
Professor Jackson encourages any Allegheny student interested in a career in politics to seriously consider applying to the Pennsylvania House Legislative fellowship program. For more information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.