The Caltech Y Local Government Seminar Series with Former Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek

When President Rosenbaum was approached by former Pasadena Mayor, Terry Tornek, with an idea to demystify local government and encourage community involvement, his office sought out the Y – well known for civic engagement and public service programming – to take the lead on what would become a local government seminar series for students. Although Mayor Tornek knew that scientists are well educated and have analytical thought processes that could be applied to local issues, local government is often a mystery, which can make participation unappealing. He was interested in providing information that could allow citizen-scientists to apply their critical thinking to benefit their communities. The Caltech Y staff assembled a planning team, including student leaders from the Student Executive Committee (ExComm) and the Student Activism Speaker Series (SASS) Committee, to partner with him to craft a program to meet his impressive goal.

The resulting Local Government Seminar Series took place over six weeks in October and November with four interactive, 2½-hour seminars providing an overview of local government structure, roles, and services; an examination of relationships with local businesses (Caltech), state, and federal governments; and an exploration into current issues like affordable housing, YIMBYs / NIMBYs, and grassroots politics and citizen participation. Participation was capped to ensure an intimate experience, and applicants committed to attending all four seminars. The series proceeded with eight undergraduate students, six graduate students, and one staff member.