Saint Leo Makes the Annual State Legislative Session a Classroom

March 08, 2016

Each spring, students from Saint Leo in Florida are among those who make the trip to Tallahassee for a day or two of meetings at the state Capitol during the annual legislative session. As the lawmakers must address many diverse issues, students and faculty from a variety of disciplines gather valuable insights in meeting with local legislators, and sometimes with government affairs specialists for professional fields or industry associations. So while students interested in government careers naturally find the class, club, or honor society-sponsored trips invaluable additions to their education, so too do students interested in careers such as tourism and social work.

Below are two different accounts of the kinds of experiences Saint Leo makes possible.

Business Education

Nine students majoring in international tourism and hospitality management traveled to the state Capitol for Florida Tourism Day (pictured) on January 20, 2016.1_tourism -day

One highlight was hearing presentations from representatives of industry groups—such as Visit Florida and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association—that educate lawmakers on policy issues that affect tourism business operations. The sector’s groups wanted to weigh in on the use of (state) tourism development taxes, proposals to increase funding to allow Visit Florida to advertise worldwide, and incentives meant to draw more media production companies to film movies or television shows in Florida.

The students visited other offices and elected representatives, as well. The students who made the trip to Tallahassee were: Raisa Alstodt, Mary Caitlin Denning, Emily Gargiullo, Michael Gula, Marcos Pacheco, Lyndsey Ray, Marta Reyes, Jazmine Stevenson, and Melinda Vitale.

The students were accompanied by faculty members John Heather and Peter Marian, and the entire party was met there by department chair Dr. Judy Holcomb. Some students made valuable networking contacts for career development as well.

Florida Student Assistance

Senior Jake Gates, a political science major and Florida resident, visited with legislators in the company of SLU President William J. Lennox Jr. and political science Instructor Frank Orlando, to discuss the continued importance of a state grant program that helps Florida residents attending eligible, private, non-profit universities in the state. The Florida Resident Access Grant helps offset tuition costs and is meant to help keep students and graduates in Florida. It has a long track record but annual visits and ongoing communications keep lawmakers apprised of the benefits.2_group

Caption: From left, Instructor Frank Orlando; Florida State Representative Daniel Wright “Danny” Burgess Jr., R-Zephyrhills; SLU President William J. Lennox Jr.; student Jake Gates.

It was instructive for Jake on a personal level to learn by representing students, as he hopes for a career in public service. In reflecting upon the trip to the Capitol, he said, “One of my biggest take-aways after spending time lobbying in Tallahassee is how most of politics is really about keeping in contact with people and knowing how to convince someone they can benefit from taking up your position. One must understand that politicians are almost always busy, even when their jurisdiction is small. And if you want to convince someone to come to your side, you have to meet them where they are at.”