North Dakota high school girls were invited to participate in this mock government program, which demonstrates the democratic process and inspired civic participation.
The 131 participants learned about the political process and were able to experience college life at UND by living in the residence halls and touring the campus. The program provided an opportunity for the students to sit in actual classrooms and eat in the cafeterias.
Dana Michael Harsell, associate professor and Masters in Public Administration Director in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, said he loved all of the energy these young women brought to campus.
“These are some of the best and brightest young women North Dakota has to offer,” said Harsell
Girls State provides the opportunity for the girls to learn by doing and participating, rather than simply studying textbooks. The participants were also given the chance to win scholarships through the program and boost their resumes.
The program provides a chance to explore career opportunities that the girls may not have previously considered, such as government.
“Some girls just get the spark for politics,” said Harsell.
Once the girls arrived at UND, they were divided into cities (residence hall wings), which further partner to form counties (residence hall floors). All counties together form the mock state of Flickertail Girls State. With the help of UND staff and faculty, along with Auxiliary staff and counselors, the girls had the chance to make campaigns, run for office and elect officials at the city, county and state levels.
Harsell said that his favorite part was watching these young women engage in the program.
“This program opens new doors for people and helps them understand they can make a difference,” he said.
Throughout the week the girls were divided into political parties and got to experience firsthand the political process they have studied about in their textbooks.
On Monday, the participants at Girls State engaged in a question-and-answer period for the Women in Government Panel, which consisted of Jamestown Mayor Katie Andersen, former Grand Forks District 43 Senator JoNell Bakke, and District 42 Representative Kylie Oversen.
Friday, the program concluded with an inauguration ceremony for the elected officials, as well as a graduation ceremony.
The guest speakers at the closing ceremonies were UND First Lady Marcia Kelley and Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Each delivered inspiring speeches on the power of politics as well as the power of civic involvement.
During the closing ceremonies, two $500 UND Alumni Association Scholarships were awarded. To win this scholarship, students must attend UND and have an interest in public affairs or public service. A $750 UND Honor Scholarship was awarded to the Girls State Governor and the representatives attending Girls Nation. The recipients must attend UND to receive the scholarship. The Department of Political Science and Public Administration also awarded $100 to the girl with the highest composite score on the government test taken during the week.
“I learned how to incorporate my voice to be heard,” said newly-elected 2013 Girls State Governor Hayley Lund. “I was able to learn to work with people and make many friends in the process.”
Lund, a Crosby, N.D. native, is planning to attend UND and major in Elementary Education and Music Education. Her experience in Girls States has inspired her to be involved with the community and encourage more girls to attend the program.
“Because of Girls State, I was able to meet these phenomenal young women who have so much potential,” Lund said. “I can’t wait to see where that potential takes them.”
Two girls were also chosen during the ceremony to be North Dakota’s delegates for Girls Nation held in Washington, D.C. While at Girls Nation, the delegates meet with national government leaders and learn about the political process at the national level.
by Kate Menzies, University and Public Affairs student writer
Dana Michael Harsell
Political Science and Public Administration
University of North Dakota