‘Stetson Days at the Capitol’ Makes a Big Impression

Stetson University, including administrators, trustees, faculty, students, staff and alumni, made its presence felt Dec. 5-6 during Stetson Days at the Capitol.

Last January, nearly a year ago, a contingent of Stetson administrators, trustees, faculty, students and staff traveled to Tallahassee to meet with legislators, tour facilities, gain insight and share information about Stetson’s activities and impact in DeLand and Gulfport. Although Stetson faculty and students have made previous trips, it was the first-ever official university event there. 

At the time, Stetson President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD, described the Stetson Day at the Capitol as “truly wonderful and catalytic.”

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 5-6, Stetson returned to Tallahassee for a second official event, which now has grown into Stetson Days at the Capitol. And Roellke used two simple words to sum up the outcome: “phenomenal” and “incredible.” 

President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD

In other words, Stetson made its presence felt in a big way. 

Joining Roellke were university representatives from across the DeLand campus and the College of Law in Gulfport. Among others, they included Steven Alexander ’85, Board of Trustees chair; Provost Elizabeth Skomp, PhD; Stetson Law Dean Benjamin Barros; David Hill, PhD, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Jason Evans, PhD, executive director of the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience; Steven Smallpage, PhD, director of the Center for Public Opinion Research; counselor education professor and chair Jesse Fox, PhD,  a leader of the Center for Optimal Health Across the Lifespan; biology professor Lynn Kee, PhD; political science professor Kelly Smith, PhD; Krista Bofill, executive vice president and chief of Development; and trustee Lila Jaber ’88 JD ’90. 

Alumni were present, too.

Multiple Agendas

Among the agendas were requesting legislative appropriations for academic program development, building relationships, creating potential new partnerships and fundraising.

Steven Alexander ’85, Board of Trustees chair

Alexander pointed to the hard work being done for students by “seeking state funds to help preserve part of Florida’s rich educational history.” In Tallahassee, Alexander emphasized Stetson’s deep roots in Florida’s educational landscape as one of the state’s oldest institutions. He stressed the importance of preserving the university’s historic buildings, not only as a part of Stetson’s heritage, but also as an integral aspect of Florida’s history. 

“We are dedicated to garnering support for our projects and conveying Stetson’s value to officials in Tallahassee, demonstrating the university’s ongoing commitment to educational excellence and historical preservation,” Alexander said.

Also, Alexander and Smallpage continued to pursue growth opportunities for the Center for Public Opinion Research, which in October entered into an important strategic agreement with the Orlando Economic Partnership to strengthen its scope. Alexander now believes the center is “part of the business fabric of Florida.” A partnership between the center and Florida State University is being explored. 

In addition, Smith led discussions about creating a Tallahassee semester for students. (Updates to come when available.)


The professors also brought top students, who were able to witness and participate in legislative advocacy in action. And the student experience went beyond political science. Evans brought an environmental science student, while Kee was joined by a biology student. “The idea was building from last year, which exclusively involved our law students and political science students,” Hill noted. 

Regarding the students, Roellke pointed to Stetson’s new Strategic Plan. Among the spokes of the plan’s wheel is Experiential, Contemporary and Integrative Learning. “This [student experience] was very connected to our strategic plan, the extent to which we can have students applying what they’re learning in the classroom in real-world settings,” Roellke said. 

Another highlight was a reception that included legislators and alumni, along with university representatives. The event was especially well attended.

portrait outside
Provost Elizabeth Skomp, PhD

Generally speaking, Roellke commented: “We spent time with legislators. We spent time with our alumni who were in the region. Of course, any engagement with our alumni body is very valuable to them. Perhaps most importantly, our students were there. They had the opportunity to sit in on some committee meetings, really get an understanding of how the legislative process works. And our faculty shined, doing pitches for some appropriations.” 

Skomp added, “In building on the foundation of last year’s Day at the Capitol, we also had the opportunity to showcase examples of excellence across the university and tell Stetson’s stories.”

Tallahassee Legacy

Stetson, of course, has a legacy of legislative leadership in Tallahassee. Most recently, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Stetson College of Law alumna (1978), was unanimously elected in November 2022 as president of the Florida Senate for the 2022-2024 term. Other recent Florida Senate presidents from Stetson are Mike Haridopolos ’92 (2010-2012), Andy Gardiner ’92 (2014-2016) and Joe Negron ’83 (2016 to 2018).

Notably, Hyatt Brown, a longtime Stetson benefactor, was a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1972 to 1980 and Speaker of the House from 1978 to 1980. He has served on Stetson’s Board of Trustees since 1981. Three Florida governors are from Stetson, too.

Standing Tall

Further, according to Roellke, on the visit Stetson stood tall in the university’s approach to conversations about sensitive topics and how they play out on campus. “I felt we really shined in that regard because we are so committed to dialogue across difference and civil discourse, and at the same time being committed to freedom of expression,” he said. “So, it was a great opportunity to educate legislators who I think had some assumptions about college campuses in the state. And Stetson stands way above in my view, in terms of how we address those issues.”

David Hill, PhD

Stetson stood out, and the opportunities are only expected to grow — with future plans calling for an even broader presence in Tallahassee.

Steven Smallpage, PhD

“I’ll say last year, our first year, was a success. And this second year was an even bigger success,” Hill said. “The goal is next year to expand it a little more with more students and more faculty members engaging these legislators. … The whole thing is about building these formal relationships that already exist.”

“Really, last year was sort of an introduction, and this year we were able to meet people who remembered us,” Smallpage said. “When you talk about building a relationship, we’re becoming regulars. And that’s important for doing what it is that we want to do, which is having Stetson build a longstanding, robust relationship in and around Tallahassee.”

-Michael Candelaria