Two Allegheny Students Spending Spring Semester as Fellows in Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Though connected through the Allegheny College Political Science Department, junior Jesse Tomkiewicz and senior Casey McDaniel have different goals, aspirations and interests.
While Tomkiewicz is interested primarily in labor law, McDaniel considers himself more of a generalist, with interests divided relatively equally among multiple policy areas.
This semester, the students’ respective interests have led them to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where they are serving as fellows at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Allegheny students have been selected for the competitive Pennsylvania House Fellowship Program for the past five years.
The fellowship allows students to participate in committee work, as opposed to working as staffers for specific elected officials. The fellowship’s responsibilities include attending hearings, committee meetings and legislative sessions, as well as conducting constituent services and policy research. As a capstone to the program, each student will have the opportunity to draft his or her own original bill and present it to committee members and other legislators.
McDaniel, a political science major and communication arts minor from Anaheim, California, says that working with a committee provides an opportunity to gain experience with implementing good policy.
“When you work for a particular legislator, you are much more of a generalist because, typically, especially state legislators don’t have that many resources, so they have a small staff and they have to do a lot of different things,” McDaniel says. “When you’re working with a committee, you just really specialize in what that committee does. It’s less overtly political and much more based on good policy and getting good information and making sure that the right people are involved in the decision-making process.”
The fellowship focuses on policymaking at the state level, rather than the national. Tomkiewicz, the head of the Coalition for Labor on campus, says this focus complements his goal of attending law school to study labor law, a passion he attributes to growing up in a working-class family.
“A lot of labor law is not just duking it out in court or fighting in employment discrimination cases,” says Tomkiewicz, a political science and philosophy double major from Freeport, Pennsylvania. “It’s also going to be lobbying and talking to representatives, so having that internal understanding of state government is definitely helpful because state government controls a lot of our criminal law.”
McDaniel sees his road ahead as a continuation of the kind of work he will be doing during the fellowship.
“I think a lot of the time we put too much emphasis on the role that elected officials play when policymaking is really complicated, and there are a lot of really hard-working people that put a ton of time in that maybe have a lot more impact than elected officials do,” he says. “I was always interested in being one of those people, and I think being a staffer working for a committee is a way to test my sea legs, to see how I like working behind the scenes on policy development and the work of a legislature.”
The application process for the program included answering general questions and submitting a resume, transcript and writing sample. Both Tomkiewicz and McDaniel credit two Allegheny professors — Patrick Jackson, director of fellowship advising in the Allegheny Gateway, and Brian Harward, director of the Center for Political Participation, as key to supporting their applications.
“Both Jesse and Casey have aspirations to be in politics in some way and have worked every angle that they could while at Allegheny in order to advance this agenda,” Jackson says. “I think that the House Legislative Fellowship is both a good reward for that work and a good launching pad for whatever comes next.”
The students also credit part of their success to a liberal arts education and Allegheny’s curriculum.
“This program was available to juniors in college, seniors in college, graduate students and law students,” says Tomkiewicz. “I’m competing with people that ought to be blowing me out of the water. I’m actually at the bottom rung as a junior applying for the program, but I think Allegheny College and its emphasis on research and the success this school has had in conducting undergraduate research, coupled with the liberal arts experience, definitely gives you a major edge when you’re applying for a job that’s basically going to be comprised of just that.”