UC Merced students took to the floor of the California Senate last week, sitting in the seats of the legislators they have portrayed all summer as a part of their Government in Action course.
The students considered bills on high-speed rail, medical care and transportation. The summer session course brings together students of various political persuasions to act as legislators, lobbyists and journalists in a simulation of the state Senate.
The goal is to provide an understanding about how the system works and how it interacts with the policy environment by looking at it from the inside.
It is being taught by political science Professor Nathan Monroe  and Merced's Adam Gray, a legislative staffer and political consultant. The two met during their undergraduate years when they interned for a U.S. congressman.
Student legislators play the roles of elected members of the Senate and represent their districts in a legislative situation. Students also take the roles of lobbyists representing various interests and try to pass their legislative programs through the Senate. Some students are assigned journalistic roles, publishing a newspaper and transmitting information.
"It's total immersion," Monroe said. "Members work in the context of constituent desires, interest group activity, the mass media and electoral politics. And all of this takes place with California's complex policy environment as a backdrop."
Monroe and Gray attended UC Santa Barbara, where they took a similar course together on the operation and politics of Congress. Monroe and Gray even had a "Point/Counterpoint" radio show at UCSB, designed to generate bipartisan discussion.
Students are assigned roles, putting them in challenging situations.
"Some of the best learning takes place when a conservative student takes the role of a liberal senator, or vice versa," Gray said. "They really have to find out how the senator thinks and, ultimately, how the state Senate works."