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Created in 2018, the Presidential Student Legislative Advocates – now known as the University Legislative Scholars Program – seeks to promote student engagement in the Oregon legislative process. The goal is to enable students to learn about, and engage in, public policy issues of concern to them at the state level.

In 2020, the program completed its second year in its new home in the School of Public Policy with a strong cohort of 45 undergraduate students from across the campus. Although a partisan walkout abruptly ended the 2020 session before the legislature could act on OSU’s legislative priorities, and the Covid-19 pandemic caused the cancelation of a planned Washington, DC trip for a delegation of 16 PSLA students, the program continued to engage students throughout the academic year and into the summer.

Based on feedback from its inaugural year, the PSLA became more formalized with defined expectations. We adopted a non-credit, tuition-free model that required students to participate in weekly meetings over all three quarters. This approach created a cohort of students who worked together throughout the year and enabled the notation of “successful completion” on student transcripts each quarter.

During the winter quarter, each student created and implemented an “Individual Development Plan” that involved customized activities such as participating in an internship, shadowing lobbyists, joining state Senators for floor sessions, and testifying before legislative committees. Students also participated in multiple lobby days advocating for OSU priorities along with the Beaver Caucus. And they joined with the six other public universities in advocating for public higher education priorities. Some students participated in OSU Foundation Trustee and Alumni Association Board of Director meetings and attended statewide business association meetings.

Due to academic course loads, graduation, and the effects of Covid-19, not all students who entered the program in the fall remained for all three quarters, but enrollment increased to 45 students during the spring quarter. (See Current Metrics and Participation Statistics.)

The on-line spring quarter included interactive Zoom sessions with a variety of practitioners, including a state legislator, a public radio reporter, a campaign strategist, a union organizer, and OSU faculty engaged in leadership training and public policy analysis. (See Affiliated Faculty and Spring Quarter Activities.)

Over the last year, current and past participants in the PSLA have gone on to secure positions in legislative offices in Salem and Washington, DC. The future for PSLA participants is extremely bright.

The DC Spring Break Trip

Beginning in the final weeks of the Fall Quarter we worked with the Associated Students of OSU (ASOSU) and the Government Relations Office to recruit and select students to participate in a spring break trip to Washington DC. Twenty-four students applied to participate and ultimately 16 students, 10 of whom were already participants in the PSLA, were selected to participate on the trip, based on the strengths of their application materials. The six students who were not already in the PSLA were folded into the program for the winter quarter.

During the winter quarter the group met weekly in addition to the normal PSLA sessions to prepare for the trip, the Government Relations Office scheduled meetings in all seven Oregon delegation offices, and ASOSU staff managed the travel logistics. We scheduled a lunch with former US Senator Gordon Smith and worked with the Alumni Association to schedule a reception with OSU alumni in the Washington, DC area. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, we initially delayed the trip until May, and then ultimately had to cancel it.

The OSU Foundation developed fund-raising activities for the trip that raised approximately $1,500, with possible commitments for more. Total cost for the trip was estimated to be approximately $45,000. We had initially hoped for the cost of the trip to be shared equally among the Foundation, ASOSU, and the Provost’s Office.

OSU’s Government Relations Office and ASOSU will determine the status of joint activities in Washington, DC during the 2020-21 academic year.

Additional Highlights

  • Six students participated in legislative internships during the 2020 session.
  • Eighteen students participated in a “carbon field trip” to Salem, where they met with advocates, both for and against a state carbon emissions bill. They also met with state agency staff who provided policy analyses for the Governor; non-partisan committee staff who managed the bill in the legislative process; and the chief sponsor of the bill.
  • Working with Dr. Allison Myers in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, four students visited the Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center to talk with volunteers and professionals who work with the Corvallis homeless population.
  • Eight students took an independent study option for credit and wrote policy memos on bills under consideration during the 2020 session. They submitted their memos to legislators who served on committees that had jurisdiction over the bills. Legislators and/or legislative staff reviewed the memos and provided students with comments, suggestions, and recommendations regarding their memos.
  • The program expanded to include Tribal Governance, with one student monitoring a meeting of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission in Portland.
  • During the spring quarter, students competed against each other in teams to predict the results of 21 key races in Oregon’s May primary election. One student participated as a campaign staff for a successful House campaign.
  • President Ed Ray met with the students each quarter to discuss whatever issues the students had in mind.


What PSLA Participants Have to Say about the Program

In November, PSLA Student Angelee Calder testified on men­tal health issues with College of Public Health and Human Sciences Dean Javier Nieto and Allison Myers, Director of OSU Center for Health Innovation.

As a student scientist, I particularly appreciated the chance to lobby for the renovation of Cordley Hall -- a building badly in need of major repairs in which I had done most of my work as an undergraduate. I know that our efforts made a huge difference to the legisla­tors we spoke with.

Throughout my time in the PSLA, I came to appreciate each legislator's willingness to engage with students. Before enrolling in the program, I considered lawmak­ers as people I had nothing in common with and who weren't interested in what I had to say. But I found that legislators were open and responsive to our issues. They almost always tried to meet us at the same level, hear our concerns, and show interest in the issues we were lobbying for.

I found leadership skills I didn't know I had while guid­ing small groups of students around the capitol building as we advocated for OSU and higher educa­tion. I also learned how to better script and organize cover letters and resumes for both the political arena and professional job opportunities.

I particularly liked the communal atmosphere of the program. While students in the PSLA came from differ­ent backgrounds, we all were willing to open-up and work together to advocate for fellow students. Each person was engaged, asked questions, and genuinely cared about the program even though it had no credit load. Everyone took each outside event seriously, and I felt fortunate to be a part of such an awesome group.

--    Kris Bauer, graduating senior, College of Science, majoring in Biology

As a PSLA participant I wrote a policy memo for a state legislator. This assignment was a great experience as I am now going to work in a Congressional office where I expect to use this format and analytical approach. I learned a lot from the exercise, not only about the writ­ing format but also about the criminal justice system which was the topic of my memo.

Although lobbying can often be generalized as an ac­tivity for money-hungry interest groups, the PSLA showed what advocacy really involves. It was such a valuable experience to advocate for myself and for my university. I gained skills that will be useful throughout my life in various settings.

--    Karli Plucker, 2020 graduate, majoring in Human Development and Family Science, with a concentra­tion in Human Services

In January, Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) previewed the legislative session along with his Legislative Assis­tant Jack Lehman, a participant in the 2018-19 Program.

One of my favorite days in PSLA was when Rep. Dan Rayfield came to speak to us. He was funny, relatable and just another person. He described the Ways and Means process in simple, easy-to-understand terms. It was the first time I felt like I understood the difficult choices those in politics are forced to make every day. I have a new-found appreciation for those who work in our legislature. He was so open to questions and freely shared the failures and successes he had in life.

PSLA showed me how to put the passion I have into tangible action. The program helped me realize that I could help push for legislation to help other students. As I step back and think about it, it is really powerful.

You get out of the PSLA what you put into it. I was sur­prised by how many opportunities were offered. As a student you want what will make you stand out among other applications when going on to graduate school, and the PSLA is a great way to get that extra edge. It is fun; you meet new people. And, at the end of the day, you become a part of important work -- so take ad­vantage of it!

--    Halli Barrios, graduating senior, majoring in Biology with a concentration in Pre-Medicine and minors in Leader­ship and Chemistry

In November, PSLA students participated in a Beaver Caucus Lobby Day in Salem, advocating for OSU’s capital construc­tion projects.

PSLA provided real world experiences that went be­yond what could be accomplished in the classroom. I connected with fellow students who had similar inter­ests and the program gave me direct experience analyzing specific policies.

I now appreciate the time and work it takes to create legislation. I also now have the confidence to speak with politicians about different issues and policies. Overall, I have a better understanding of how our po­litical system works.

One of the my favorite and most challenging tasks from PSLA was writing a policy brief that I submitted to a leg-

islator on a bill that was under consideration during the short legislative session. This assignment put my skills to the test and gave me the opportunity to learn how to thoroughly research policies and develop a rec­ommendation as if I were a legislative staff member. It was a lot of work, but I received direct feedback from the legislator, and the learning experience was worth it.

This program provides great opportunities for students who are interested in the public policy process, and I recommend participating in as many events and lobby days as possible. They are experiences I am always go­ing to remember.

--    Sydney Anderson, graduating senior, College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, majoring in Environ­mental Sciences with a minor in Economics

Just a week after meeting one of Oregon's state sena­tors during a PSLA lobbying trip to the Capitol, I ran into her on campus. I was able to approach her and re-introduce myself, and we had a great chat about the activities I was involved in on campus. It was such a great example of a real-life networking experience, and I am so glad that I had the courage to approach her even though I knew it was unlikely she would remem­ber me. Having the courage to establish connections with professionals is a lifelong skill, something that I am glad PSLA has encouraged me to do.

I came to appreciate how many people are involved in making policy. It was astounding for me to see the diversity of people working in the Capitol as support staff, lobbyists, etc. They were all essential in shaping what happened in the building. The PSLA program enabled me to meet and shadow advocates and legislators and to learn about how the many players participate in the policy process.

My biggest takeaway from PSLA was learning how to contact representatives and senators, and how to speak with them about issues important to me. PSLA also allowed me to voice my concerns to legislators in a succinct, meaningful way. I learned how to effectively incorporate personal anecdotes and data into my conversations while clearly voicing the need for change.

PSLA is for anyone who wants to know more about how policy affects their life. We all have a connection to public policy in one way or another. Being a part of PSLA allowed me to think about how I can incorporate engagement with government into my future career as a physician.

-- Allie Zinn, graduating senior, majoring in Biology with a concentration on Pre-Medicine, minoring in Chemistry and Public Health



In January, students occupied the committee member seats in Hearing Room F, for a field trip focused on state carbon legislation. They met with various parties involved with the bill, including Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), pictured here.

The PSLA carbon field trip offered unique and compre­hensive insights into Oregon’s carbon bill -- one of the most significant issues facing the legislature over the last two sessions. The staffers and policy experts who spoke with us graciously explained the history and con­text of the carbon bill in clear and understandable terms. Although I was interested in climate change issues before the trip, I knew little about the process and the intricacies of the issues involved. I left the hearing room feeling like a “legislative insider.” It was an extremely informative experience and I hope future PSLA members will be able to take advantage of op­portunities like this!

--    Katie Lewis, graduating senior, College of Public Health and Human Sciences, majoring in Health Promotion and Health Behavior

As a student in a STEM field, I learned the most about the political process from the PSLA. Even though I had taken political science classes for my minor, the learn­ing that we encountered in Salem through the PSLA is incomparable to what I experienced in the classroom. We got to be there when it was happening and work to pursue an agenda that mattered to students across Oregon.

It sticks when you are part of the process. You get to know so many things by participating in this program: OSU, the Oregon legislature, higher education, and the history and reasoning behind funding decisions. I learned about the factors that have shaped our current reality and how to work to improve our future.

--    Rachel Josephson, ASOSU President, graduating senior, majoring in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology with minors in Chemistry and Political Science

PSLA students at the January 2020 Beaver Caucus Day in Salem.

I opted to add a one-credit independent study in addi­tion to my participation in the PSLA. This project involved writing a policy memorandum for a legislator about a bill under consideration during the 2020 ses­sion. I was challenged, yet respected, working with the Program Director to develop and refine a policy memo to a professional standard. As a political science major, this experience was both tangible and rewarding. The PSLA provides opportunities for growth, personally, ac­ademically, and professionally.

Prior to my time in the PSLA, although born and raised in Oregon, I had never visited Oregon’s Capitol. On my first visit for a Beaver Caucus Lobby Day, my group and I managed to find our way into a bill-signing ceremony with the Governor who was delighted to see us and shook our hands. A good story that makes me smile, but also a reminder of the doors that can open if you let them and of the opportunities that come from be­ing intuitive, respectful, and engaged.

Regardless of where my future takes me, whether it in­volves politics or not, these skills will serve me well in whatever field I choose. To recognize the complexities and to work through issues in a manner that is both productive and still optimistic has been a great gift to my understanding of the political process, and more importantly, in the system that we are entrusted to engage with as citizens.

I would encourage students to lean into their strengths and to stay true to what they believe in. The PSLA pro­

vides students a platform to do meaningful work, not only for themselves, but for the greater good for the people of Oregon.

--    Whitney Iverson, graduating senior, majoring in Political Science in the School of Public Policy, with minors in English and Religious Studies


Supplementary Information

Affiliated Faculty and Staff

Jock Mills, Director, Presidential Student Legislative Advocates

Catherine Bolzendahl, Director, School of Public Policy (Incoming, July 2020)

Leanne Giordono, Postdoctoral Scholar, College of Public Health and Human Sciences

Katie Fast, Executive Director, Government Relations

Claire McMorris, Coordinator, Government Relations

Allison Myers, Director, OSU Center for Health Innovation, College of Public Health and Human Sciences

Katelynn O’Brien, Program Coordinator, College of Business

Shalynn Pack, Internship Coordinator, Department of Fisheries & Wildlife

Ed Ray, OSU President Emeritus

Karla Rockhold, Assistant Director of Career Development, College of Liberal Arts

Brent Steel, Director, Public Policy Graduate Program

Christopher Stout, Associate Professor, School of Public Policy

Erica Wolters, Assistant Professor, School of Public Policy

PSLA encourages all interested faculty and staff to engage and participate.


PSLA Spring Quarter 2020 Activities

(All sessions were conducted on-line via Zoom)



  1. Wednesday, April 1

Rebecca Tweed – Politics in Oregon. What it takes to win a campaign

  1. Wednesday, April 8

Rep. Dan Rayfield – Willamette Valley Legislative Fellowship Program

  1. Wednesday, April 15

Team Workshop/Competition: Predicting the results of the Oregon 2020 Primary elections

  1. Wednesday, April 22

Katie Fast, an update from Salem

  1. Wednesday, April 29

Tony Lapiz, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) – The role of unions in Oregon’s political landscape

  1. Wednesday, May 6

Lauren Dake, Oregon Public Broadcasting – Covering politics in the Oregon Capitol

  1. Wednesday, May 13

Inara Scott, Ethical decision-making and leadership in challenging times

  1. Wednesday, May 20

Post-Election Results: Who are OSU’s champion political junkies?

  1. Wednesday, May 27

Chris Stout – A national perspective on primary election results and implications for the future

  1. Wednesday, June 3

Final Session – A conversation with OSU President Ed Ray

Additional discussion sessions included “Internships and Job Searches in the time of Covid,” and a discussion with campaign strategists regarding summer campaign opportunities.

Current Metrics

Last year we identified the following metrics to gauge the Program’s success in its initial two years. Based on additional experience and feedback from participants, funders, and others, these metrics will be refined and updated for the coming year.

  • 35-40 students participate in each cohort. Goal exceeded all three quarters during the 2019-2020 academic year. (See Participation, p. 8.)
  • All colleges with undergraduate students are represented in each cohort. Goal met. In the future, we will be looking to increase participation from the Colleges of Business and Agricultural Sciences.
  • 75% of participants become post-graduate members of the OSU Alumni Association
    Membership from 2019 graduates: 2 (4.6%)
    Membership from 2020 graduates: To be determined. Unlike previous years, all graduates from the class of 2020 will receive their first year of OSUAA membership free.
  • 100% of participants are subscribed to the Beaver Caucus listserv.
    2018-19 cohort: 12 (27%)
    2019-20 cohort: 47 (100%)
  • 100% of resident students meet and correspond with their state legislator(s). Goal: not currently tracked.
  • 50% of participants engage in a job shadow through the program. Goal achieved – before the Republican walkout ended the session, 23 out of 42 participants (55%) in the winter quarter successfully completed a job shadow or joined a Senator for a floor session.
  • An average of one legislator per quarter visits the OSU campus to engage with PSLA participants and others. Goal achieved.
  • 85% of participants complete the program. Goal exceededto date, 100% of participants who enter each quarter have successfully completed that. Of the 40 students who entered the program in the fall of 2019, 29 (73%) successfully completed all three quarters.
  • 25% of participants are placed in, and complete, internships at the state, federal, or non-profit sectors. Goal not achieved: winter quarter 6/42 (14%) participated in internships. A yet-to-be determined number of students will be serving on internships during the summer of 2020.
  • The program includes an active component at the federal level, including a spring break visit for a segment of the PSLA participants.: Goal disrupted by Covid-19.



Participation Statistics





Successful Completions





35 (80%)*

Fall 2019


+ 15 returning from previous year



40 (100%)

4 did not re-enroll for winter

Winter 2020†




42 (100%)

Spring 2020

See notes



45 (100%)


*  In July 2018 the Government Relations Office sought recommendations from campus leaders for students to help lobby during the 2019 legislative session. Subsequent to receiving names from deans and other campus leaders, the Govern­ment Relations Office worked with President Ray to create the PSLA and converted the original list of recommended students into participants in the program. The concept of “successful completion” did not exist in the first year of the program. We created the non-credit/free tuition course for the 2019-2020 academic year. During the 2018-19 academic year approximately 35 students show sustained participation over all three quarters. These students were invited to participate in a congratulatory meeting with President Ray where he presented them with certificates of completion.

†  Winter Quarter 2020 included the addition of six new students based on their selection to participate in the Joint PSLA/ASOSU spring break trip to Washington, DC. (Six students who participated in fall quarter chose not to renew.) A total of 24 students applied to participate in the DC Spring Break trip (11 non-PSLA, 13 PSLA). Of these, 16 students were selected, 10 PSLA and six new students. One of the DC students chose not re-new for spring quarter.


Spring Quarter Participation

Of those who participated in the winter quarter, one graduated and six did not re-enroll for spring quarter. We extended participation to all undergraduate students with a cap at 50: a total of 45 students participated in the program for spring quarter 2020 – all successfully completed the program.

College by Major




Liberal Arts








Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences








Agricultural Sciences



Public Health & Human Sciences











Total (Majors)