It’s not every day that you get a shout-out from Joanna McClinton, the first female person of color to serve as Pennsylvania’s Speaker of the House. Yet, this was the reality for a few Muhlenberg students this past month. Organized by the Political Science department, this trip to Harrisburg was a memorable one indeed, with students sitting in for live sessions in both chambers, interacting with state senators and staff alike, all while learning more about how their government is at work.
Professor of Political Science Lanethea Mathews-Schultz, Ph.D., who led this cohort of students at the Capitol, said, “Politics in the US have become so nationalized that we often neglect state political institutions and elected leaders. But, state legislatures have a significant influence on our day-to-day lives in areas ranging from reproductive rights to education to environmental regulation to gun control.” Going further, she went on to mention that, “in addition to highlighting the central role of state politics in our lives, I arranged the trip because the PA state capitol is among the most beautiful in the nation–it is truly an awe-inspiring place.”
Whether it was walking through the Capitol’s rotunda, inspired by the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, or admiring the ornately crafted Senate Chamber when interacting with Senator Nick Miller, there undeniably remained a sense of disbelief among students. Marissa Scharf ‘24 remarked that “despite my political work in the local area during my time at Muhlenberg, I have never been able to visit Harrisburg and see everything in action. The State Capitol was beautiful! The tour of the building was very insightful, and I loved getting to learn its history.”
“I have never been able to visit Harrisburg and see everything in action.”Marissa Scharf ’24
Of course, sightseeing was only one aspect of this trip as Mathews-Schultz further explained that her “hope is that students who participated in the trip have a better sense of who their state lawmakers are, understand the importance of state politics to our lives and I hope they are inspired to get more engaged in state and local politics.” Assistant Professor of Political Science Ross Dardani, Ph.D., who also accompanied students on the trip, mentioned that he thought “it was a great experience for students to explore the state capitol together and learn about its history while thinking about how a democratic system of government works, especially at the state or local level.”
Emily Gonzalez ‘27 expressed similar ideas, explaining that she had “decided to attend the excursion to the Pennsylvania State House because, as an individual who hopes one day to work as either a member of Congress or the Senate, I knew that this trip would allow me to get a taste of what a career in government would look like.” Going further, Gonzalez went on to state that “the one thing I took away from this trip is the importance of representation and how the work of these representatives is crucial to our democracy. The very act of experiencing these proceedings and the work that goes into working as a congress member or a senator has energized my aspirations in the political field.”
“As an individual who hopes one day to work as either a member of Congress or the Senate, I knew that this trip would allow me to get a taste of what a career in government would look like.”Emily Gonzalez ’27
For others like Scharf, the trip gave her hope for the future in a different sense. “I was especially glad that so many of the other people on the trip were first-year students. They had so much energy and enthusiasm. I may be graduating in the spring, but I feel confident that I am leaving the Political Science Department—and Muhlenberg’s political sphere in general—in good hands.”