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Congress is in session
Associate Dean and Professor Noelle Norton, PhD,
illuminates the inner workings of congressional procedures

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Congressional Simulation

“The simulation offered us a chance to use and experience what we were learning. Knowing the rules was critical to success in the simulation. We needed to understand how Congress worked in order to participate.”

- Emma O’Leary, political science student

The central principles of Congress are covered in many a political science textbook, but the granular details remain a mystery for most. To bring life to the history, operation, organization and politics of Congress, Associate Dean and Professor Noelle Norton, PhD, teaches a course (POLS 312) that involves a unique House of Representatives simulation, giving students a glimpse into political life on the House floor. Taking on identities of current congressmen and women, Norton’s students learn the ins and outs of congressional rules, policies and procedures that are imperative for any political scientist or Capitol Hill-hopeful to know.

“The simulation offered us a chance to use and experience what we were learning,” said junior political science student Emma O’Leary. “Knowing the rules was critical to success in the simulation. We needed to understand how Congress worked in order to participate.”

Taking place in USD’s Grace Courtroom, the first day of simulation was full of passionate debate, thoughtful arguments and a healthy bit of competition. “My favorite part of the project was speaking during the floor debate,” continued O’Leary. “Both sides were passionate about their party ideologies, and it made for an interesting floor hearing.”

Students at the congressional simulation

“My favorite part of the project was speaking during the floor debate. Both sides were passionate about their party ideologies, and it made for an interesting floor hearing.”

- Emma O’Leary

As an undergraduate, Norton took a similar course at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and as happenstance would have it, so did O’Leary’s father. “The course I took had more students, but the hands on experience of holding formal committee meetings and a full simulation of the House floor was a wonderful way to truly learn congressional procedures,” said Norton. “Alumni who work on Capitol Hill have mentioned how useful the course is as training.”

Norton adapted the original concept from Roger Davidson, PhD, to best fit USD’s class size and coursework. “[When my dad] took this class there were more than 100 people in the class,” said O’Leary. “Lobbying and log-rolling were even more important because of the size of his class. His class was also famous for holding ‘Representative Keggers,’ giving everyone the chance to lobby outside the classroom.”

Noelle Norton, PhD Students at the Congressional Simulation

“The course I took had more students, but the hands on experience of holding formal committee meetings and a full simulation of the House floor was a wonderful way to truly learn congressional procedures. Alumni who work on Capitol Hill have mentioned how useful the course is as training.”

- Associate Dean and Professor Noelle Norton, PhD

While Norton’s version does not involve ‘keggers,’ students are encouraged to use lunch meetings as a way to lobby support. Overall, students feel the class provides valuable insight into the actualities of how Congress functions.

For O’Leary, the course emphasizes the necessity to thoroughly understand the legislative process. “I learned that although partisanship is a major factor in congressional action, there are also many factors that determine political outcomes,” said O’Leary. “Rules and Procedures, for example, impact the legislative process tremendously. Congressmen need to understand who to work with and when to take action. Familiarity with the rules is essential to have power within the House or Senate.”

- Leslie Hammann

Useful Links

Department of Political Science and International Relations Political Science Alumni
Political Science and International Relations Course Descriptions