Taste of Life on the Hill
By Bekah Oester
Thirteen individuals from Bowie State University including faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, made a trip to Capitol Hill on Oct. 1. The trip, which was planned and led by BSU professor Dwight Ellis, offered students a unique opportunity to visit and experience an environment of the U.S. Congress as well as have a private audience with a distinguished Maryland member of Congress: Elijah Cummings.
In attendance to meet with Cummings were Ellis, faculty members Marie Brown and Sharon Glaster, multimedia technician John Satterthwaite, and students KC Carnage, Jocelyn Jones, Erin Berry, Bekah Oester, Apollonia Edwards, Cassandra Dorsey, Jirae Foster, Nemeze Onyemaobi, and John Harris.
Upon arriving at Cummings' office, BSU was greeted by staffers Vernon Simms and Kim Johnson. The first lesson learned was how busy the environment is and how quickly plans can change; despite having an appointment, Cummings was out of the office for other duties, and only was able to give the group 10 minutes for questions. The students made the best of the situation, however, and gleaned information from Johnson before and after speaking to Cummings.
To be successful working on Capitol Hill, Johnson told students that a well-rounded background is preferable, advising them to "become well versed in so many areas" because there is a lot to be handled. She also said that it is important to be inquisitive, fast on your feet, and to have excellent research and writing skills, because any error can have serious repercussions. Johnson summed up the qualities needed, telling students they must be "well read...well spoken...well dressed...well traveled...well balanced."
Working on Capitol Hill as students saw first hand is a serious task. The environment is extremely fast-paced, and hours can be long. Johnson mentioned it is a personal challenge for her as a single mother at times, and noted that many employees are single and unattached for that reason.
After discussing what it is like and what it takes to work in such an environment, the discussion shifted to a topic closer to the group in attendance: education. Students asked advice and opinions on topics ranging from tuition costs to the likelihood of a BSU or any HBCU student going on to a high-profile job or Ivy League school. Johnson said that because health care is taking up so much effort right now, tuition isn't getting the attention it should, and hopes that it will once a decision regarding healthcare is made. She also encouraged students not to have a mindset that their education is inferior to any others."You're responsible for determining your path, " she said, advising students to go through or around obstacles and to highlight their positive differences when seeking out opportunities.
When Cummings joined the discussion, the education topics continued. Students inquired about the impact of graduating from an HBCU (Cummings is a Howard grad), and about his feelings regarding teachers having to lose jobs or take furloughs due to the economy. Cummings had positive feelings from Howard, saying it impacted his life "tremendously," and that it prepared him for where he is now.
In regards to the economic situations in Maryland, Cummings said that depriving anyone of an education is one of the worst things that can be done. "I know you can't get there unless you're educated," he said.
Before leaving, Cummings shared some personal anecdotes with the group as life advice. "Excellence comes in being competent...in being honest," he said. He also told students to make sure they busy themselves in order to better themselves, they worry about their own gifts instead of the gifts of others, to get to know yourself, and lastly, to "watch who you love," because too many people waste their time and emotions on people who don't care about them. With that, he was back off into a busy day on the hill.
Students left with knowledge of a new and important work environment, career and life advice from professionals, and increased knowledge on today's important political issues. Although this was a school-sponsored trip, it is important for students to know that they can take the initiative to take a similar trip on their own to expand their personal knowledge.