Emerging Leaders Program


The Sorensen Institute Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) is a seven-day leadership development program (occurring in three sessions over three months) that develops effective leadership and public policy skills for Virginia residents who are in the first decade of their career.

The intent of the program is to bring together a diverse group of young professionals from across the Commonwealth who have an interest in strengthening the quality of governance at all levels and wish to expand their skill sets and knowledge base about leadership, policy, and governance. The program prepares participants to move into positions of greater responsibility within government, assume the role of a community leader, or seek elective or appointed office in the executive or legislative branches of government.

Priority will be given to applicants who are currently working or have worked in state and/or local government in the Commonwealth of Virginia. However, the program is also open to applicants who are interested in becoming more active in public service and public policy.

The program is most effective when it has a balance between Republicans and Democrats. Applicants who have another party affiliation or no such affiliation are also encouraged to apply.

In 2020, the class is scheduled to meet September 18‑19, October 16‑17, and November 5‑7 and is anticipated to meet in person in Charlottesville and Richmond. We continue to monitor public health guidelines, and it is possible that the program will move online if necessary.

If you have any questions about the Emerging Leaders Program that are not addressed here, please contact Sarah Campbell at 434-243-2470 or sarah.campbell@virginia.edu.

If you would like to refer someone to our program at any time throughout the year, please visit our referrals page or contact Tracy Tanner Bond at 434-982-4943 or ttm@virginia.edu.


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Effective leadership—through building trust and working together—is a central theme of the program. We explore many issues that are not inherently partisan and that instead reward bipartisan cooperation in crafting approaches to problems, opportunities, and challenges faced by Virginia residents. We also review techniques for finding common ground in addressing potentially divisive topics.

The Emerging Leaders Program curriculum is focused on several core subject areas:

Public Policy

Participants will engage in presentations and discussions of a variety of public policy issues facing state and local governments.

Policy Advocacy Skills

The program involves real-world exercises in creating, advocating for, and defending public policy initiatives. The class will work in small groups to craft policy proposals similar to those considered by Virginia’s executive branch, General Assembly, and local governments.

Virginia’s Government Structure

From its single-term Governor to its part-time General Assembly to its system of counties and independent cities to the Dillon Rule, Virginia government has a structure that is rather unique. Program participants will learn about the powers and limitations that these unique attributes create.

Ethics in Public Service

The program will include a study of ethical principles as they relate to public service. We also explore Virginia's conflict of interest laws and Freedom of Information Act.

Effective Leadership

The class will learn how people in the first decade of their career can develop the management and leadership skills that facilitate professional growth and improve the chances for advancement to positions of greater responsibility.

Program Schedule

The Emerging Leaders Program sessions typically run from 9:00am to 5:00pm on each of the session dates.

The meeting dates for the 2020 Emerging Leaders Program are:

September 18-19: First Session
October 16-17: Second Session
November 5-7: Third Session

Because of the interactive nature of the program and the way in which lessons build upon one another, the overall success of the program depends on the attendance of all students at all sessions. Therefore, attendance during the entirety of the first two days and last three days of the program are mandatory. During the middle two-day session, an absence of one half-day may be requested. Absences require prior approval of the Sorensen staff and will be approved only if the absence will not affect the integrity of the program.

Program Cost

The program fee for the 2020 ELP is $1,500. Participants are responsible for their own travel expenses, but food and lodging costs are covered by the program fee. Limited financial aid may be available.

Financial Aid

Limited financial aid may be available to encourage a broad applicant pool. In addition, prior program participants have raised funds in order to participate. Information about the process is available on our Financial Aid page.

The IRS provides information about a lifetime learning tax credit that may be available for programs taken to acquire or improve job skills. Unfortunately, neither the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership nor the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service can provide tax advice about whether an individual’s participation in the Emerging Leaders Program is eligible for a tax credit.


The application process is open to Virginia residents who are in the first decade of their career (generally between the ages of 22 and 32).

The application includes a series of short essay questions in addition to some basic contact and background information and two references. Applicants may also submit up to two letters of recommendation.

Selection Process

The Sorensen Institute seeks Virginia residents, ages 22 to 32, who are currently working or have recently worked in state government (specifically in the executive and legislative branches) and who desire to build public policy skills. Approximately 20-25 participants will be selected in a highly competitive selection process that includes an essay-based application and in-person interviews by staff members, regional board members and alumni. Interviews for the 2020 class will take place either in person in Charlottesville and Richmond or via Zoom.

The class is expected to have a balance between Republicans and Democrats, as well as participants who have other party or no party affiliations.

Application Instructions

  1. PLEASE NOTE: This is an online application. We are not able to save partially completed applications. We recommend printing the application form, preparing offline everything you will need to complete the application, and then importing the information into the application form. To print out the application form, follow the link at the bottom of this page.
  2. After you have read these instructions and prepared everything you will need to complete the application, follow the link at the bottom of this page to import your information into the online application. Please remember to prepare everything you will need before starting to complete the application since you will not be able to save your work and return to it later.
  3. The application includes a series of short essay questions in addition to some basic contact and background information and two references.
  4. Applicants may separately submit up to two letters of recommendation. These are not required, and we will not review more than two. To be considered, letters can be either emailed to sarah.campbell@virginia.edu by no later than 11:59pm on the filing deadline or postmarked by the date of the filing deadline and mailed to:

    Sarah Campbell
    Sorensen Institute
    P.O. Box 400206
    Charlottesville, VA 22904

Essay Questions

The short-answer essay questions on the application each requires a 250 to 500-word answer. These answers are a significant part of the selection process and important to our admissions decisions.

Contact/Background Information

The application also requests contact information and background materials concerning education, employment, and activities. Our goal in reviewing this information is to help build a class with diverse backgrounds but a common interest in effective leadership, governance, and public engagement with government.

Please remember, once you start the application there will be no way to save partial work, so make sure you have everything you need to complete the application. If you have any questions about the program or your application, contact Sarah Campbell at 434-243-2470 or sarah.campbell@virginia.edu.

Applications Open
Fri, July 17, 2020
Applications Close
Tue, August 18, 2020