In an effort to fulfill its mandate to provide training opportunities for congressional staff, the Stennis Center and the Senior Stennis Fellows created the Emerging Congressional Staff Leaders program in 2000. The Emerging Leaders program is a mentoring program whose purpose is to provide personal encouragement and guidance from veteran congressional staff to younger staff who have demonstrated significant leadership potential during the early stages of their careers on Capitol Hill. To date, some 99 young staffers have participated in the program. Many continue to serve on Congressional staff and several of them have gone on to become Stennis Fellows.
The program reflects the desire of Senior Stennis Fellows to help develop newer staff members who demonstrate a commitment to a career on Capitol Hill. Through a combination of one-on-one mentoring and group discussions, the program nurtures leadership skills and fosters a commitment to public service among congressional staff.
In the 112th Congress, 16 Emerging Leaders are paired with 16 Senior Stennis Fellows who serve as mentors. Mentors and Emerging Leaders will meet as a group five to six times to learn how to be more effective in their jobs. Together they discuss legislative procedures used on the House and Senator floors, the nexus between policies and politics, and how to help their Members achieve legislative goals. The mentors also provided advice on career advancement on Capitol Hill. The program also connects the Emerging Leaders in a network not only to each other across party lines and chambers, but also to the Senior Stennis Fellows.
“Working on Capitol Hill is an amazing experience, but for a young staffer, it can also be confusing and intimidating,” said Rock Cheung, a junior analyst on the Senate Budget Committee. “There are few formal opportunities for junior staff to receive mentoring from senior staff, especially on a one-on-one basis. The Emerging Leaders program has reinforced my passion for public service. It has also developed in me a deeper, more profound appreciation for Congress and the men and women who truly make it great - the staff.”
Jim Dykstra, a Senior Stennis Fellow who had over two decades on Capitol Hill in both the House and Senate has been a mentor since the program began in 2000. He said, “The Emerging Leaders have the opportunity to meet their young colleagues, as well as current and former senior staff, from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Hill. Those bipartisan, bicameral relationships, coupled with the plenary sessions focused on issues identified by each EL class, help make them better, more effective staffers. The program provides value not only to the Emerging Leaders and their Members, but to the legislative process itself.”
From the mentor’s perspective, Jim says, “The Emerging Leader Program also is a great way to connect with the next generation of Hill leaders. I've been blessed to be paired with an EL in each of the past seven Congresses -- since the very first class. We ‘mentors’ clearly get as much out of the program as we give, and it's been great developing friendships that will last a lifetime.”