Morrisville State College students participate in Model State Senate Session Project

Three Morrisville State College students recently served as government leaders and participated in legislative decision-making through their involvement in the Model New York State Senate Session Project, a dynamic leadership development program for students interested in public service.

This year’s participating MSC students included seniors Gina DiFrisco, a criminal justice student from East Syracuse; Tom Ogindo, an information technology management student from Peekskill; and Stephen Strack, an agricultural business student from Saranac Lake.

The experience had a lasting effect on the students’ future aspirations.

“The Senate Session Project has opened the doors for me and I intend to take full advantage of them,” Strack said. “I want to give a voice to people whose voice isn’t being heard.”

Morrisville was one of only six SUNY campuses that participated in the event, which is a collaborative effort between SUNY, CUNY and the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force of the New York State Legislature. The annual gathering enables students to engage in a series of intensive training seminars with prominent New York state legislators and guest lecturers on state policy formulation, legislative processes, representation and leadership. The program provides students with a hands-on introduction to political and policy processes by working on a legislative agenda that they develop.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity,” said Silvia Bliss, advisor to the project and MSC associate professor of liberal arts. “Through their participation, students engage in an intense experiential learning activity where they grow in their leadership skills, public speaking, critical thinking and networking.”

Since 2007, SUNY’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has sponsored SUNY undergraduate students to participate in the Model Senate Session Project, underwriting meal and accommodation expenses and providing them business cards. More than 60 CUNY and SUNY students are selected each year to participate in the program and compete for scholarship awards.

Students conclude the project by debating bills on the floor of the New York State Senate chamber in Albany. This year’s debate focused on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.

“It is really rewarding when our students face their nerves and stand up in the Senate chamber to defend their positions regarding important legislation such as the DREAM Act, which has strong consequences for the access to higher education for immigrant students in New York,” Bliss said.

Ogindo described his experience at the event as “powerful.”

“The biggest impact the event had on me in terms of public service is to fight for what you believe in,” he said. “It may be against the norms of your party or district, but if it is something you truly believe in, have sufficient arguments to state your case.”

DiFrisco likewise described the event as “an eye-opener,” stating that it gave her a sense of appreciation for discussing and debating current political issues.

“Having the chance to look at a situation from another point of view, I was able to connect with others regardless of our personal views,” she said.

Bliss, now in her second year as advisor, enjoys the privilege of seeing her students develop as leaders.

“I believe that the intensity of the experience has a transformational power where our students realize they can valuably engage in government and be effective participants in solving problems we face as a state and a society,” she said.

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