Lauren Oligino, '24, in front of a bookcase in Jepson Hall.

Politics and the law: At the nexus of public policy

March 18, 2024

Attending classes. Interning in the office of a U.S. senator. Running a student government meeting. It’s all in a day’s work for senior Lauren Oligino. The leadership studies and political science major from Westfield, New Jersey, seizes every opportunity to explore her interests in politics and law.

The summer after her sophomore year, Oligino participated in Jepson at Cambridge, the Jepson School of Leadership Studies’ signature study abroad program at the University of Cambridge. “After taking classes in English legal history and comparative U.S.-U.K. law,” she said, “I realized I loved comparative law, and I confirmed my interest in law more generally.”

A political science internship with a state senator during the spring 2023 Virginia General Assembly session gave her hands-on experience in the political arena. “It was very fast paced, and I had the chance to work in both the legislative and executive branches of state government,” she said.

Oligino said electives taught by Dr. Jennifer Bowie on constitutional law and the U.S. Supreme Court gave her the background she needed for her summer 2023 Jepson School internship with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. “One of my duties involved helping file civil rights lawsuits against school boards on behalf of LGBTQ students,” she said.

“My younger brother, who is gay, had to leave public school because of bullying. So, it was really interesting for me to see the influence state leadership can have on shifting the agendas of local school boards on LGBTQ issues.”

She said she also found some of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office court cases on immigration and Social Security particularly compelling.

During fall semester 2023, the senior interned with the Office of U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va. “The highlight of this internship was answering phones and responding to constituents,” she said. “Some issues came up over and over — immigration, the war in Gaza, Trump’s court cases. We received calls about personal issues too, such as mail delivery, Veterans Affairs benefits, and Social Security issues.”

This semester, for her Jepson honors thesis, Oligino is creating a reacting game that explores brain death. Modeled after reacting games she encountered in Dr. Javier Hidalgo’s Leadership in International Contexts class, she is designing a game where participants will play certain roles, such as family members and doctors, while determining if and when to pull a brain-dead patient off life support. Dr. Hidalgo is serving as her faculty mentor.

“Game participants must make decisions in difficult situations that are often out of their control,” she said. “This project has personal, religious, and policy components. It connects to my interest in health care public policy.” 

In addition to her academic and internship experiences, Oligino has served on University of Richmond’s Westhampton College Student Government Association since August 2020. She is currently its president, and her duties can include meeting with Kevin Hallock, president of the University of Richmond, and with the University Board of Trustees.

“I love the sense of community that comes from doing public service work with other students,” she said. “I’ve transferred a lot of the skills I learned in student government to my work in state and federal government and vice versa.

After graduation, Oligino said she plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy or public administration and eventually go to law school.

“My long-term goal is to work at the intersection of politics and law.”