Colorado State Capitol Building
CMU's Political Science Club is spending time in Denver this week, gaining firsthand experience in politics.


A capital idea

Colorado Mesa University’s Political Science Club is getting a firsthand feel for their field in the state’s capital this week. On Jan. 20, 13 students and two faculty advisors head to Denver to rub elbows with key decision makers. They are attending as part of the 2016 Voices of Rural Colorado Denver Legislative Trip, sponsored by advocacy organizations CLUB 20, Action 22 and Progressive 15.

The three nonpartisan groups were organized to represent the interests of western, southern and northeastern Colorado, respectively. These regions are home to 59 of the state’s 64 counties, but are often marginalized in Denver politics, according to Bill Flanik, PhD, assistant professor of political science and one of the faculty members accompanying the students on the trip.

“We’re too big to be ignored but small enough to be overlooked,” said Associate Professor of Political Science Justin Gollob, PhD, who will also travel to Denver. “I think that’s the purpose behind this trip — to show up in Denver, show a united voice coming from rural Colorado, and be a part of that process.”

CLUB 20 works closely with CMU’s political science students, often getting them involved in local issues and providing opportunities to participate. “It’s a relationship that, from my position as a faculty member, I really value,” Gollob said.

The political science students had been planning a trip to Denver on their own, raising money for it with a bake sale, but when the opportunity to join CLUB 20’s legislative trip arose, they jumped at the chance. The organization waived its registration fees for them. Three donors are footing the bill for the students’ transportation, food and lodging. The donors are Neal and Mary Locke and Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis.

“The original idea to support students attending this trip came about from my astonishment that so few people, especially many politicians, have such a poor understanding of our Constitution. We want students to be able to learn first-hand how the legislative process works,” Mary Locke said.

During their time in Denver, the club will meet with staffers from the offices of U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner. They’ll hear from a number of state senators and representatives, meet a few lobbyists and attend several panels on policy issues such as education and health care. On Thursday night, the students will attend a reception at the Governor’s Mansion.

Their professors hope the experience will help the students develop professional skills and build their contact lists. “I want them to kick the tires ... of governance and explore possible careers that they may not have thought of,” said Flanik. “I want them to get a feel for the personality types and a lot of those intangibles that come with working in politics.”

He and Gollob are looking forward to the trip just as much as the students are. “I’m very excited because this is a rare opportunity for the students to get learning that I can’t give them in the classroom,” Flanik said. “I’m a firm believer in experiential learning, and there’s so many intangibles, so many soft skills that we just barely scratch the surface of in the classroom.”

Follow along with the CMU Political Science Club's trip by following #Club20Voices on Twitter.

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