Workshop offers behind-the-scenes look at politics

Meeting face-to-face with state lawmakers and advocating for important legislation might not seem like the work of a typical college student. But that’s exactly what Northeastern University students are learning as part of an Advocacy Workshop this semester.

In the service-learning course — taught by Greg Goodale, assistant professor of communication studies — students coordinate with The Home for Little Wanderers to advocate on behalf of foster children in Massachusetts. The workshop, in its second year, is a prime example of Northeastern’s signature experiential learning education model. Students strengthen their communication skills, learn how to effectively lobby on behalf of issues, and discover they can make a difference in the world.

Earlier this semester, students in the workshop attended roughly three dozen meetings with representatives and senators at the Massachusetts State House in support of two bills. One bill would require state agencies to ensure the educational stability of foster children, while the other would ensure that siblings maintain rights to see each other while either sibling is in foster care.

“Meeting with representatives is nothing I ever expected to do in any college class,” admitted Bart Flaherty, a junior and communication studies major. “It makes you feel more confident. A lot of personal growth happens in this class.”

Impressed by his face-to-face meeting with the students, Representative Paul Mark, a freshman legislator and former student in Northeastern’s Law and Policy doctoral program, visited the class on Feb. 24, fielding questions about his background working on political campaigns — including those for Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Deval Patrick and Barack Obama — as well as the impact individuals can have lobbying for bills, particularly through personal letters. Mark offered one lesson he learned during his own political stumping: “Don’t take an opinion you can’t defend.”

Mark praised the Advocacy Workshop, noting that students can gain valuable experience from meeting with legislators.” “This workshop is a great model,” Mark said.

Later this month, the students also plan to meet with state senator and Northeastern alumna Karen Spilka, L’80.

“This has been eye opening for me in terms of what to expect when I graduate and what skills I should be developing,” said Jay Altschuler, a senior and political science major.

Added junior Garrett Nuttall, “It’s really given a tangible aspect to the fact that what I’m doing can make a difference.”