Students from across Virginia participate in Capital Semester

Kate Lewanowicz
Staff Writer
This semester VCU welcomed 35 students from colleges and universities across Virginia to intern with members of the Virginia General Assembly in VCU’s Virginia Capital Semester program.
During this year’s legislative session, the students joined the staff of Virginia senators and delegates, working about 20 hours per week and enjoying a front-row view of the session as it unfolded. In addition to their internships, students are enrolled in a semester-long course covering the ins and outs of the Virginia legislature, taught by Bill Leighty, former Chief of Staff to former Gov. Mark Warner.
Vonda Johnson, a social work student from Norfolk State University, and Jeremy Codiroli, a sophomore studying systems engineering at Virginia Tech, are two students participating in the program.
“Last year I came to the General Assembly and I got the bug then,” Johnson said. “It’s just a good experience. It’s good for social workers to understand the process and the policies, who is making these bills and how can they make a difference.'”
This January Johnson began her internship with Sen. Yvonne Miller, D-Norfolk, kicking off her experience by attending functions on behalf of Sen. Miller’s office, such as the Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast.
Johnson also took a special interest in following legislation pertaining to social work. “I went to all the committee meetings. I went to as many committee meetings as I could,” she said.
Johnson particularly enjoyed rehabilitation and social services committee meetings. These
helped her to see how her future career would be affected by legislation and helped her to feel
more connected with the world of social work.
“There were a lot of bills going through that I didn’t agree with,” she said. Johnson did, however, agree with the passage of HB 2037, a bill pertaining to social work.
Jeremy Codiroli didn’t know what to expect from his internship at the General Assembly.
“I really went there not expecting anything. I had done some government stuff before but not
really any campaign or legislative work. So I didn’t really have any idea what to expect.”
Codiroli interned with Delegate Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, who serves as the Republican caucus chairman. “You had a new task every single day,” Codiroli said. Daily tasks included meeting with constituents and lobbyists and taking notes for the delegate. “It was amazing how many different things there were to do,” he said.
As a systems engineering student, Codiroli is learning how to streamline processes to make them more efficient. “A lot of people will say that our legislative process is really inefficient,” he said. But, “all its efficiencies are in its inefficiencies.”
Seemingly long-winded processes such as reading a bill three times and having it signed by both the House and the Senate actually serve a purpose, Codiroli said. “All the little inefficiencies are what makes it work so well in keeping the number of laws passed each year to a low number.”
Interfacing with Delegate Hugo about particular bills was another exciting aspect of Codiroli’s internship experience. “It was very interesting to be in that position where you were right in the middle of that battle where millions of people would want to be,” he said. “You’d be able to say what tons of people would want to say to the delegate face-to-face.”
Johnson said the Virginia Capital Semester gave her and fellow students the opportunity to see if politics and government were where they wanted to be. “It’s been awesome,” she said. “It has definitely put a new look on how we look at politicians.

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