UNCW and City of Wilmington Launch Pilot Shadowing Program for Student Leaders

Monday, February 22, 2021

Five leaders in the UNCW Student Government Association will get an inside look at local government and policymaking as part of a new shadowing program.

Each student will shadow an assigned City of Wilmington council member for two weeks during the spring semester. As part of the program, students will attend meetings and have the opportunity to work with city employees specialized in areas based on topics of interest of the council member. Students will give a presentation during a city council meeting to share learning outcomes, personal experiences and their future desire to engage in local government at the end of the program, said Jon Kapell, director for Campus Activities and Involvement in UNCW’s Division of Student Affairs.

“The students who expressed interest in this program are driven leaders who possess high levels of energy, particularly as it pertains to representing their constituents,” said Kapell. “I hope they gain a better sense of local governance and how our city operates. I also would like them to see how they can be global citizens and learn how they can use their involvement experience now as a gateway to engagement after college, especially in service to their community.”

Senior Seth Norwood, communication studies and political science major; junior Robby Fensom, philosophy and communication studies major; sophomore Courtney Bodenheimer, political science major; sophomore Jack Casterella, industrial and systems engineering major; and sophomore Sergey Osmirko, business administration major; were selected for the pilot program.

Fensom, SGA chief of staff, approached Kapell about shadowing a public official to learn more about town management. The idea grew into a pilot program after conversations with city officials, said Kapell. “If this initial phase goes well, we could explore expanding it and perhaps even attract high school students in the area to do something similar.”

Fensom hopes the experience will allow him to develop a stronger understanding of complex issues facing the community.

“There is a distinct difference between reading local papers and being able to observe the policy drafting process and listening to debate in the city council meetings,” he said. “I expect to gather a more nuanced view of local politics, and look forward to being able to apply this experience to both my academics and student leadership.”

Fensom noted student leadership in higher education has the potential to be a training ground for a lifetime of service.

“After graduation, I plan on attending a dual J.D./MPA program. My aspiration is to transition these experiences into involvement in local government,” said Fensom. “Local politics holds a power that many people underestimate or are otherwise unaware of. I look forward to being able to invest my education into improving my community with a directness that cannot be matched by any other level of government.”

City Council members have long prioritized opportunities for civic engagement and civic education and this is an opportunity to accomplish both of those, said Tony McEwen, assistant to the Wilmington city manager for legislative affairs.

“The pandemic will certainly pose a challenge to this shadowing experience but will provide a lesson in public officials working through extreme adversity. If this pilot project becomes a more annual experience, there should be opportunities for more in-person shadowing.”

City officials hope the program offers college students a practical understanding of local government and the impact of civic participation at the community level, said Jerod Patterson, communications director for the City of Wilmington.

“This experience provides City Council with an opportunity to engage a new generation in local decision making and share their passion for community leadership with future leaders,” he said. “It also provides a valuable learning opportunity for councilpersons to see how collegiate and young professional cohorts experience local policymaking and how that shapes their perspectives.”

 --Venita Jenkins


Seth Norwood standing in front of a window

Seth Norwood

Robby Fenson standing in the breezeway

Robby Fensom

Courtney Bodenheimer standing in the breezeway

Courtney Bodenheimer

Jack Casterella standing in front of a water fountain

Jack Casterella

Sergey Osmirko standing in a breezeway

Sergey Osmirko 

Photo credit: Sergey Osmirko