Hokies on the Hill Seminar:
An Insider's Examination of Capitol Hill, the Congress, & the Presidency

(Prerequisite: Acceptance into the Hokies on the Hill program)

Christopher J. Yianilos
Executive Director of Government Relations, Virginia Tech
Affiliated Faculty, Virginia Tech Political Science Department
571-858-3005 (office)
Office Hours: By Appointment

David Tinsley
Federal Legislative Liaison

Courtney Thomas
Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of Political Science, Virginia Tech

Class Meetings: Fridays between 10:00 am -12:00 pm. Location to be determined. (Class times will vary when guest speakers join the class).

Seminar Overview

This seminar focuses the inner workings of the legislative process. The course works in conjunction with the Hokies on the Hill Capitol Hill focused internships, and it adds depth and substance to what the students see and experience every day in their internship. We will examine how a Capitol Hill office is structured, and how it functions on a daily basis. We will study how the Congress is organized, the committee system, the seniority structure, and the differences between legislating in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. We will delve into the politics of elections and how those politics affect the legislative process, and we will do so in the context of discussing real life legislative initiatives being debated in the Congress.

One of the key goals of this seminar is not just for students to simply know how the United States Congress works and not just simply to grasp legislative policy initiatives being debated in Congress, but to understand the political decisions that pervade every decision in Washington. We will look at what our nation’s leaders are saying and doing and repeatedly ask one simple question: “Why?”

Moreover, a key focus of the seminar is to provide a forum for students to explore and develop their own thoughts and views on important issues being debated in Congress. Rather than simply look at party leadership and follow, through class discussions, essays and guest lecturers, students will be encouraged to listen to all sides of an issue, spot the politics involved, and form their own decision.

Guest lectures from Capitol Hill leaders are an important component of the seminars. Some past speakers have included: Senator Mark Warner, former Senator John Warner, Congressman Rob Wittman, Congressman Tom Davis, former Ambassador to NATO David Abshire, former White House official Bud Krogh, Politico editor Marty Kady and former Capitol Hill Chief of Staff and Communications Director Carter Cornick.


Learning to think, write, and articulate critically and analytically in classroom discussions are critical objectives in this course.

In recognition of the seriousness of the material presented in this seminar, we assume that all participants are professionally mature and willing to engage in independent as well as collaborative efforts in the name of growth and understanding. Students must, therefore, be willing to take seriously their responsibilities toward each other and toward the learning environment. Respect for the views of others, and for our guest speakers is essential.

Daily, students are expected to read newspapers, periodicals and journals focused on the legislative process, politics, and current events of Capitol Hill and the White House. Sources such as the Washington Post, Politico, Roll Call, the Hill, the National Journal or the CQ Today are essential reading. All, or most, are either available online for free or are delivered daily to the offices you are interning in, and a few of these should be read on a daily basis. Students are also expected to closely follow the news: CNN, Fox, MSNBC and the major networks should be watched on a daily basis, particularly following major events like the State of the Union or a Committee hearing that you witnesses as part of your internship.

Throughout the semester, students will be expected to write 3-4 short, assigned essays. These essays should be turned in on time, and should be written and edited in a professional manner – as if a United States Senator, Congressman, or your boss at your office was going to read them. As such, spell checking your document is essential and having one or more people proofread your essay is important.

Students will also be asked to give an end of year presentation before the class and invited Capitol Hill staff and guests.

Class attendance and class participation is a critical component of this experience. We only meet once a week so failure to attend a class is a huge loss.

Grade Overview

  • 30% performance on essay assignments
  • 10% end of year classroom presentation
  • 10% quizzes
  • 35% classroom attendance
  • 15% classroom participation (your substantive engagement in classroom discussions and with guest lectures)

93-100 = A; 90-92.99 = A-; 87-89.99 = B+; 83-86.99 = B; 80-82.99 = B-; 77-79.99 = C+; 73-76.99=C; 70-72.99 = C-; Etc…

Attendance Policy

Students are expected to attend every seminar session. Students are given the opportunity to make up one missed class through a substantive assignment. In the case of emergencies or highly unusual circumstances that require a student to miss more than 1 class, please see Chris. Students should always notify Chris & Dave both in advance of an expected class absence.

Late Assignment Policy

Assigned essays must be submitted on time. Essays submitted after deadline will be deemed not submitted. Should a student need an extension due to an emergency or some other type of unusual circumstances, students should contact Chris & Dave in advance.

University Honor Code

Although collaboration and communication are essential elements of the seminar environment, students are expected to individually complete all assignments. The Honor Code will be strictly enforced in this course. All assignments submitted shall be considered graded work, unless otherwise noted. All aspects of your coursework are covered by the Honor System. Any suspected violations of the Honor Code will be promptly reported to the Honor System. According to the Constitution of the Virginia Tech Honor System "The fundamental beliefs underlying and reflected in the Honor Code are: (1) that trust in a person is a positive force in making that person worthy of trust, (2) that every student has the right to live in an academic environment that is free from the injustices caused by any form of intellectual dishonesty, and (3) that the honesty and integrity of all members of the university community contribute to its quest for Truth."

By agreeing to participate in this seminar, you certify that all of your work and actions throughout this course are compliant with the University Honor Code.