Wilder School Virginia Capitol Semester program: Edvard Evans gains an inside perspective on Virginia government
by Rachel Zeeve
When Edvard Evans first heard about the Wilder School’s Virginia Capitol Semester program from his advisor, Nathan Bickett, he was excited about the chance to affect positive change in his community on a day-to-day basis. This spring semester internship allows students to combine classroom experience with hands-on service in the office of Virginia State Legislature House Delegate or Senator during the General Assembly, and Evans was able to gain an inside perspective on the inner workings of state government.
A pivot from international relations to political science sparked Evans’ interest in the program. “I’ve learned at great length about government, but I wanted to see it operating in the active sense — no classroom alone can replicate that level of learning,” he said.
"In light of increasingly divisive conversations surrounding social and economic issues and what seems to be a growing distrust of our government, it brought me a lot of comfort and hope in seeing how many things really are open for the public to look at.” – Edvard Evans
Discovering new insights on government in action
Working in Senator George Barker’s Office, Evans was responsible for organizing bills and talking points for committee meetings as well as constituent correspondence. From his very first day on the job, he was able to foster direct connections with community members. “I got to help a caller who was struggling to renew a medical practice license,” he reflected. “The next day, I came back to a thank you message from her. That feeling of helping someone with their issue sticks with me, and I’m glad I was able to provide some level of assistance to her.”
Evans quickly learned that with some practice, government can be more accessible than it appears. “From the outside, it’s easy to view government bodies as being complicated machines,” he said. “But throughout my time in the program, I realized how transparent the government can be if you know what you are looking for. It is easy to contact representatives, and many questions can be answered by simply reaching out and asking. In light of increasingly divisive conversations surrounding social and economic issues and what seems to be a growing distrust of our government, it brought me a lot of comfort and hope in seeing how many things really are open for the public to look at.”
Even across party lines, Evans noted a welcoming work environment. “Friendships andpositive work relationships were the norm,” he said. “This good-natured relationship was reflected in the ability of members to work collaboratively on bills and issues where large divisions of policy preference were present. I found a newfound appreciation for the level at which laws and policies have to be scrutinized across the aisle.”
Guest speakers supplement the program’s robust classroom experience. 66th governor of Virginia L. Douglas Wilder was a standout for Evans. “It’s rare to speak to such a monumental figure and even rarer to have an hour of their time,” he said. “He was humble and intelligent — and just as quick to ask us questions as we were to ask him questions. Even after all that he has seen and done, he still wanted to engage with us and learn from us.”
For his final project, Evans worked alongside classmate C.J. Walz to design a bill focused on underage sex trafficking in Virginia. “For our bill, we looked at Peterson and McClellan's Senate Bill 664 of the 2022 session and Delaney's House Bill 2131 of the 2023 session for modification,” he said. “We combined the two and altered the language to create something we thought would better protect the children of the Commonwealth while creating a more agreeable bill for a divided house.”
Preparing for career success
As the semester progressed, Evans’ professional aspirations came into clearer focus. “Talking to chiefs of staff and legislative aides was what made me want to pursue a similar career,” he said. “They’re the ones speaking to members of the public, organizing information for representatives and making sure that elected officials could operate effectively while they deal with the more intricate issues and details. Over the last four years, I’ve grappled with asking myself ‘where do I want to go, and what kind of work do I want to do?’ It felt like these questions would never have answers, yet in the span of two months I found myself in love with the work that these staffers did.”
Now, Evans is motivated by a passion for the policy world. “The Capitol Semester program created my career goals,” he reflected. “I had a loose idea that I wanted to work in a local or state-level government position, but had no concrete plan for what I wanted to do. Through the Capitol Semester program, I now know that I want to assist a legislative representative by working in their office as a legislative aide or as chief of staff one day.”
2023 Capitol Semester interns Edvard Evans, Sofhia Penida Garay and Laila Barnes gained specialized experience working alongside delegates of the Virginia House of Representatives and the Virginia Senate.