The spheres of business and technology and law and politics dominate not only the U.S. economy but also its culture. As an M&T student, I am exposed to the business and technology sphere during the school year, so I decided to pursue a political internship for my freshman summer in the office of Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey. I hoped this experience would give me a first-hand look at the relationship between an elected official and constituents in our increasingly ideologically diverse Commonwealth.
One of the underappreciated roles of the staff members of democratically-elected leaders can be derived from the etymology of the word “democracy.” From the Greek for “rule by the people,” each Representative, Senator, or other elected official has some constituency that they are obligated to represent. For Pennsylvania Senators, part of this constituency is the city of Philadelphia: the birthplace of American democracy, today home to over 1.5 million people.
I interned in the Philadelphia office of the Senator, which communicates with constituents in Philadelphia and the southeastern Pennsylvanian counties. The office both gathers constituent concerns and solves Federal government-related issues for those constituents. The city of Philadelphia alone is home to 1.57 million people, the southeastern Pennsylvanian counties are home to 4.1 million people, and the entire Commonwealth is home to 12.78 million people. It is the responsibility of our two U.S. Senators to represent each one of these constituents in Congress. The task of representing such a large constituency poses both an interesting data problem and an interesting democratic one. Such a large constituency, especially during an era of political activism, both challenges the ability of elected officials to communicate with constituents while also providing an opportunity to gain insight into solving problems facing that constituency.
While the volume of constituents may imply each cannot be uniquely considered, field staff and other staff members at the Philadelphia office do achieve this goal. Each are actively communicating with every constituent that contacts the Senator. Through a combination of dedicated staff members, data-driven technology, and volunteers, each concern is heard.
As an intern, my chief role was communication with constituents and dissemination of their concerns throughout the Senator’s offices and staff. Witnessing the scope of democracy in the age of activism was inspiring. From this experience, I can foresee using data to revolutionize the way we communicate with constituents in the future. It also solidified my political interests. As I continue to study in the M&T program, I would like to combine my education with my interest in politics, eventually running for office on behalf of constituents in Pennsylvania or another state.
Wesley Sheker is a member of the Class of 2020 studying electrical engineering and concentrating in finance and accounting. After graduation, he plans to pursue a career in financial law and run for political office. His favorite thing about the M&T Program is the cross-disciplinary approach to education and the incredible resources provided.