By Courtney Westlake
UIS alum Mike Ragen, who now works for the Illinois State Library, took time out from his day on Wednesday, May 13, to spend some time with four sophomores from Greenview High School as he showed them around the Illinois State Capitol Complex and explained the processes and issues within the state government.
The tour was part of the first-ever "Under the Dome - UIS Day at the Capitol" for select students from area high schools. The 30 students who participated were given a first-hand look at a day behind the scenes at the Illinois Statehouse on one of the busiest days of the legislative session.
The students learned about many career opportunities and the skills and education needed to pursue a career related to government or politics from the dozens of UIS alumni and students working in professional positions at the Statehouse.
"It was a great day, there was a lot of high energy, and it was good to see people come in support of us; UIS has some great friends who work in state government," said Ed Wojcicki, associate chancellor of constituent relations for UIS.
The morning of the event kicked off with a tour of the House gallery and a question-and-answer session with Sara Wojcicki, a UIS alum who works in media relations in the Office of Republican House Minority Leader Tom Cross, as well as Jim Fletcher, who is a lobbyist with Fletcher, O'Brien, Kasper & Nottage.
"One unexpected event is that we saw Representative Rich Brauer, and he invited us to come on the House floor," Wojcicki said. "It was very nice for these kids to go on the House floor because most of time, you have to go up in the gallery and look down."
After lunch, the high school students broke into small groups, where they met up with eight different UIS alumni serving in positions from legislative staffer to lobbyist to political reporter, who were able to show them around the Capitol. Students got the opportunity to sit in the press room where the governor holds press conference, stand in the room where the Illinois Senate gathers and more.
The students also attended a panel discussion that included Kent Redfield and Chris Mooney, UIS political science faculty members, Mary Bohlen, professor of communication at UIS, Chris Cray, director of Legislation with the Illinois State Board of Education and UIS adjunct faculty and Charles Wheeler, director of the public affairs reporting program at UIS. Additionally, they took part in a program with statehouse reporter Amanda Vinicky.
"One reason we wanted to do this is because literally no other university can do what we did today, and that is bring a group of kids to Springfield, to the state capitol, behind the scenes of state government, all with people who are friends of the university - and a lot of them who graduated from here - and show them exactly what to expect if they want to have a career in government," Wojcicki said. "And we're located here - a lot of other people could bring students to Springfield for tours or field trips, but we're here, so we do it every day with our students, our interns and our alumni."
"We think UIS is a great school for high school students to come to and experience things in state government if they want to have careers in politics and government," he added.