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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)

Class Meetings: Fridays between 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. but time may vary with guest speakers or unique circumstances. Location to be determined weekly, including Virginia Tech Alexandria and Arlington locations.

Required Text: The Art of Lobbying: Building Trust and Selling Policy by Bertram J. Levine.

Seminar Overview

This seminar focuses on the inner workings of Capitol Hill, the Congress and the Presidency with a heavy focus on the legislative process in particular. The course offers depth and substance for students considering a career on Capitol Hill, as well as government relations offices of corporations, law or lobbying firms, and trade associations.

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.

We will also look at the Executive and Judicial branches of government and examine how the legislative process intersects with both. There will be a heavy focus on the advice and consent clause of the U.S. Constitution, and how the U.S. Senate engages on executive branch and judicial nominations.

In addition, we will examine the life and role of lobbyists and federal advocacy. The role that lobbyists play, the qualities of a successful lobbyist, and the lobbying industry are all matters we will explore.

Throughout these examinations, one of the key goals of this seminar is not just for students to simply understand 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 decisions.


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 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 widely read a diversified set of newspapers, periodicals and journals focused on the legislative process, politics, and current events of Capitol Hill and the White House.  Online sources such as the Washington Post, Politico, CNN, Fox, are relevant.  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 of particular interest to you or the class.

Throughout the semester, students will be expected to write three short, assigned essays or projects.  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 engage in an in-person project with their professors and give an end of year presentation before the class.

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
  • 20% quizzes
  • 10% oral project during the semester
  • 15% 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. For good cause, students may request in advance of a class, and be given the opportunity to make up one missed class through a substantive assignment without it affecting the classroom attendance part of their grade. In the case of emergencies or highly unusual circumstances that require a student to miss more than one class, please communicate with 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.

Zoom Policy

In the event we need to participate in online classes via zoom, your camera must be on during class, except in instances where you need to take a brief personal break. If your camera is off beyond these short periods of time, the attendance section of your grade will be negatively impacted.

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 applies to all work in this class and the Code will be strictly enforced.  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.

  •  The use of online forums to gain an advantage on quizzes or other graded classwork is considered a violation.
  • All quizzes are closed book, closed notes, and no outside sources are permitted.
  • The use of quizzes or papers or exams from previous classes to help you prepare is prohibited.
  • Having another student proofread your essay is not considered a violation in this class, and proofreading is encouraged.
  • Proofing another student’s paper and then taking their ideas for your own is a violation.


Christopher J. Yianilos
Vice President for Government & Community Relations, Virginia Tech
Affiliated Faculty, Virginia Tech Political Science Department
703-599-9161 (cell)
Office Hours: By Appointment

David Tinsley
Federal Legislative Liaison

Courtney Thomas
Collegiate Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech
Department of Political Science

HOH Syllabus.doc