A mentorship program at TCNJ is helping students get an insider’s view of politics and public policy, and tap into a world of connections. The Campus to Capitol Mentorship Program — known locally as C2C — takes advantage of the college’s proximity to Trenton to connect students with alumni in politics, public affairs, and government.
“My mentor knows a lot of powerful people. I’ve met so many of his contacts and so many people who are making a change in our communities,” said Aria Chalileh ’23, a political science major mentored this semester by Kevin Drennan ’02.
Drennan, who is now a lobbyist with Mercury Public Affairs, spent two decades in Trenton, where he headed the Senate Majority Office and was chief of staff to the Senate President. Drennan also worked for former Governor Jon Corzine and on statewide political campaigns in addition to serving in corporate government affairs roles for United Health Group and Cablevision.
“Kevin provided me with a lot of valuable expertise,” said Chalileh, who hopes to run for office someday. The internships she completed with political leaders near her home in Bergen County were helpful, she said, but the C2C mentorship provides another level of insight into power and politics.
Drennan has been a mentor since the program’s inception in 2019 and some of his mentees now work in public policy, said Daniel Bowen, associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, which runs C2C.
“Through this program, we hope that students get a sense of what it’s like to have a career in public affairs,” Bowen said. One of the first mentees, William Roddy ’20, is himself a mentor this year, Bowen said. Roddy is deputy chief of staff to legislators in New Jersey’s Eighth Legislative District.
The mentorship runs from September through August and requires the pairs have at least two hours of in-person or virtual contact a month; some have much more, often staying in touch throughout the month and beyond the mentorships.
C2C also hosts alumni panels, tours of the statehouse, and other events throughout the semester.
The program was the brainchild of Catherine Tung ’15, who works as associate executive director at the New Jersey Assembly Majority Office and serves as a coordinator for C2C.
“I really saw a need to create some kind of pipeline from the campus to the capitol,” she said. “When you’re in college you’re always looking for opportunities and someone to explain this world.”
Last fall, Joe Sgroi ’16, a projects specialist with U.S. Senator Cory Booker, mentored political science major Dave Roberts ’23.
“Joe has helped me inside and outside of the mentorship,” said Roberts, who wants to pursue a career in public policy involving environmentalism and sustainability. He said Sgroi inspired him to take an internship at an environmental non-profit group in Washington, D.C. last semester.
Roberts said it’s beneficial that the mentors are mostly early- to mid-career professionals to whom students can relate.
“It’s inspiring in the way that you can see yourself in their position in 10 years,” Roberts said. “Adults who are more established in their careers can seem out of reach but when you see people like Catherine and Joe, it lights a fire under you!”
Learn more about the C2C mentorship program online at polisci.tcnj.edu/internships/c2c/
— Patricia Alex