Dec. 6, 2018

Applied Research: Batten Students Brief New U.S. Congressman

On Wednesday, Dec. 5, Denver Riggleman, the Representative-elect for Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, visited the Batten School. Sitting in on Batten professor Gerry Warburg’s “Congress 101: Advanced Legislative Strategy” class, Riggleman’s visit gave second-year MPP students who have studied the history of Congress a rare opportunity to interact with their subject matter—in person and up close rather than just reading about it in the news.

A UVA alum, this was Riggleman’s second visit to the Batten School this semester following his Sept. 28 congressional debate with Democratic opponent Leslie Cockburn.

“I promised I would come back—whether I won or not,” said Riggleman laughing.

Congress 101 is organized around one central question: what do you need to know about the U.S. Congress in order to be an effective public policy advocate? Over the course of the semester, students wrote two short policy briefs that analyze a specific policy challenge they believe will be one of the most pressing issues for Riggleman and the 116th Congress.

“This unique opportunity to define the issue agenda also afforded advanced students the chance to perform a public service,” said Warburg. “Party officials, colleagues, and lobbyists will be beating a path to the door of new Members. In this exercise, we were able to help define the issues and anticipate the consequential choices ahead for the new Members.”

Topics ranged from agriculture to health and opioids to space. While Riggleman was candid about where he stood on certain policy issues, he was also engaged and interested in the students’ policy recommendations—and promised to respond to each recommendation.

“The students are fantastic—really unbelievable the stuff they are tackling and the depth of knowledge they have is extremely impressive,” Riggleman said following the course. “I am going to read all of these briefs, comment on them, and will probably integrate a few into my own agenda.”

The students were equally impressed and eager to share their policy memos—despite a pending quiz following the representative’s visit.

“The opportunity to discuss my final paper with Rep.-elect Riggleman was the most rewarding final I have ever had for a class,” said Layla Bryant (MPP ‘19). “It was fantastic because I wrote the brief on my policy interest and it was exciting that Riggleman and I share that interest and were able to engage on it along with the fact that the class’ final projects won’t just be returned with a grade but also with the potential for informing our Congressman.”

Bryant who majored in astronomy as an undergrad at UVA avidly follows NASA and the private space industry. Her main interests are space, science, and technology policy. “We practice writing to Congress [all semester in Professor Warburg’s class]. I wrote the [memo] having no idea that he would respond,” said Bryant. “It’s a real testament to our hard work.”