DePaul students enjoy trip to state capital, meet legislators

14 graduate students went to Springfield, Il., to shadow a legislator, sit in on sub-committee meetings, and see the lawmaking process occur first hand.
Students pose with Gov. Bruce Rauner, fourteen graduate students went to the capital with professor Nicholas Kachiroubas to meet with state legislators. (Photo courtesy of Nicholas Kachiroubas)

In light of the drama of Illinois’ ongoing budget impasse, legislators in Springfield are best known by their party affiliation. But for the first time, a group of students from DePaul got a closer, more personal look. 

Fourteen graduate students from the School of Public Service each shadowed a legislator in Springfield Tuesday and Wednesday, sitting in on sub-committee meetings and seeing the lawmaking process occur first hand. Professor Nicholas Kachiroubas organized the trip and said it was a logical extension of other experiential activities in the graduate program.

“Some people have had the experience of ‘going to Springfield,’ maybe when they were in grade school, but there’s a lot of people who haven’t or they forget how it works,” Kachiroubas said. “As a graduate program not in political science, it’s important to offer the opportunity to understand (lawmaking) better, but (where students don’t) need to take a whole course in it.”

Jasmin Rosales shadowed Silvana Tabares, the representative for Little Village and Cicero and member of the Financial Institutions, Labor, and Transportation Committees.

“I was expecting the legislators to be somewhat unavailable, considering all of the issues going on. I thought they would be too busy to spend quality one-on-one time with us,” Rosales said. She was able to attend the meeting for Financial Institutions, but what surprised her most were the demographics of the capital.

“I was extremely surprised to see the low number of Latinos in Springfield, especially Latina women,” Rosales said. “I was also very inspired by the amount of support I received from many Latinas at the Capitol. There was a sense of women empowerment that made me leave very motivated.”

Kachiroubas said most students in the program want to work in government to become an agency head or city manager. Rosales said she wants to work in the Department of Family and Support Services in Chicago and to “work for a sub-department that allows me to work with at-risk youth and low income families.”

The trip was important, Kachiroubas said, because legislators have to understand policy, not just politics, in order to get things passed in the legislature.

“When people think of government, they think of politics. I would argue there is politics involved, but for most people the politics is getting elected. Once you’re elected you have to do something,” Kachiroubas said. “The policy process is what we’re looking at, getting your agenda or ideas or programs passed by legislature and implemented into laws.”

Kachiroubas has been at DePaul for four years and had the idea to bring students to the capitol years ago. It wasn’t until last fall when DePaul alumnus and House Representative Lou Lang spoke to a class and suggested that students shadow a representative for a day rather than observe the process from the outside.

“You can’t learn how government works by reading a book,” Lang, a 1974 graduate of DePaul’s Law School, said. “A lot of people support candidates who have ideas, but they have no wherewithal to accomplish ideas. They have to learn the process and how to compromise etc.

If you don’t understand the process, how to lobby, who the leaders are, Senate rules, you have a limited chance of becoming successful.”

After graduating law school, Lang was an attorney for Niles Township for 10 years. When the state representative from the 16th District retired in 1987, Lang was appointed to replace him and has served ever since. He is currently the Deputy Majority Leader in the House and represents the North suburbs Lincolnwood, Morton Grove and Skokie and portions of Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood.

“Something students will learn is that legislators are not machines,” Lang said. “They are not throwing policies out 24/7. They are human beings. Members of the House at opposite ends of the aisle (get along). People think everything is a war, when off the House floor we get along pretty well.”

Lang said he knows of no one-on-one college-level shadowing program like the one DePaul students had. The trip was sponsored by the School of Public Service and the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul, which sponsors events related to urban planning, design and development.

Rosales said the trip was valuable and that she “learned about alternative career paths within government such as ‘staffers,’ legislative liaisons within the private sector, both which sparked my interest.”

“Not only was it an opportunity for us to build a bond with our representatives and our peers’ representatives, it also allowed us to build camaraderie with other students in the program. It helped build more of a sense of community, which is very difficult among adults in an evening program,” Rosales said. “It was also a great opportunity to learn more about our professors on a personal level. Every moment of it was memorable.”