Monday, June 13, 2011

2011 Washington DC Trip - May 11-16

To view photos from our trip visit our facebook album!

Recap of our Trip - By T. J. Schumann (Secretary)

Washington, D.C. - a city teeming with history and pride in the United States’ past and future. No matter what I do there, seeing DC somehow leaves a positive impression on me. I first saw the city during a school trip in 2004 and was again provided the opportunity to do so with the Political Science Club last year. My love for DC has grown as a result of these trips and this year, I could not pass up a chance to go for a third time. Along with the rest of the Poli Sci Club, I was given the opportunity to visit and pick the brains of several people who live and work in the area in addition to establishing new contacts both in the city and among my fellow students. While we were there, I couldn’t help but feel more connected to the history being made every day in DC, especially after being able to talk with some of the people who have a direct influence on events today. Truly, my experience in DC this year was enriching and no less satisfying than my past trips.

One primary difference separating this year’s trip from the last was the method of travel. On May 11th, the club boarded an Amtrak train in Columbia at four in the morning. It was the first time that many people, myself included, had traveled by train. Compared to flying, the accommodations were nicer (more leg room!) but I cannot say much for the speed of our journey - we sat restlessly awaiting our DC adventures for over twelve hours before reaching Union Station. Nevertheless, the train ride was relatively relaxing for most of us. I myself passed the time by catching up on sleep, watching as the ever-changing scenery whizzed by my window, and getting acquainted with Monty Python and Boy Meets World for the first time.

Another first for many of us, our stay in the hostel was a fairly dramatic change from the isolated conditions of a hotel room that many of us are so used to when traveling. No TV in the room… but there was a TV room located downstairs where everyone could fight over the remote. No kitchenette in the room… just a community kitchen where you had to wash your own dishes and clean up after yourself. Only one bathroom and four showers shared between all the rooms on your floor… yikes! But what the hostel lacked in luxury it gained in opportunities to converse with university-age travelers and learn a bit about other countries as part of the deal. I remember a lengthy discussion I had with two guys from Great Britain over a game of pool where we discussed the highlights of our respective nations, which piqued my interest in visiting there someday.

But for me, the real meat of the trip came from fellowship with my professors and fellow students while enjoying DC. I never ran out of things to see - from exploring the National Mall and monuments at night to touring several museums during my free time. While none of the buildings were new to me, this year I was given the chance to try new things and delve deeper than ever before. Along with the rest of the club I toured the Holocaust museum and met with a survivor by the name of Henry Greenbaum, who told his fascinating story to a room full of teary eyes. It was a very sobering and powerful experience to see the human toll of the Holocaust, and I’m certain that many students new to the Holocaust Museum felt it even more so.

The code word of the week was networking. Getting ahead in life is as much about whom you know as what you know, and this was stressed in a number of planned events the club participated in. Contact was established with several prominent people in the DC area who agreed to meet with the club during the week. Our first scheduled meeting was with Georgia Representative John Barrow, who greeted each of us warmly and offered his time to answer questions and talk politics. I felt very fortunate to meet one of the people that represent our interests in the Capitol each day, and regardless of how one may feel about his policies, he was very personable and had much to share with the club on the inner workings of the Capitol as well as current issues such as health care and the growing national deficit. Later that evening, former Augusta College student Gloria Dittus offered her home as an amazing environment for networking and fellowship with ASU alumni, which made for a wonderful night for students and faculty alike. As with last year, I was pleased that she was so willing to share her success and hope that maybe, just maybe, someone from our group may follow in her footsteps.

During the week we also met with Senior Research Analyst Jeffery Dressler at the Institute for the Study of War, where we got a rare glimpse of a research organization whose work directly aids soldiers working on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Dressler, a former student of Dr. Albert’s at the University of Connecticut, has met with the club once before and has published several academic papers on the war in Afghanistan. From humble beginnings working at a daycare and sliding through school, he told us, he eventually worked his way into the Washington inner circles - not by patronage but by sweat. He stated how rewarding it was to be doing something that he not only loves, but something that makes an impact: keeping American soldiers and commanders in Afghanistan better informed and therefore more effective. Thanks to Mr. Dressler, I gained a greater understanding about how a political researcher can apply his knowledge (or simply piece together what’s already out there in a new way) to create real benefits for others.

My experience at the Public Affairs Council was very similar, where we peered into the workings of an organization that specializes in advising businesses and government entities on connecting with people. Vice President of the PAC, Sheree Anne Kelly offered insight on the field of public relations, the ways in which companies and other groups use their services, and how the field continues to evolve (in short, social networking has changed everything). One might be surprised how complicated it can be for a group to build interest in something at a grassroots level while maintaining a consistent and effective online presence. I certainly was! But nevertheless, I really enjoyed her presentation and was glad she was not annoyed by the many questions I had for her.

Mrs. Kelly’s advice to students was to remember the connections you make, put your best foot forward, and never giving up. That message was echoed by many others I met while in DC, and that is the message I took to heart. In addition to the knowledge gained from meetings during the week, I gained from the trip a greater appreciation for the people I got to share it all with. I can’t wait to do it all over again next year and build new experiences and friendships. After all, as fellow students in life it is important to remember the friends we make and help them on their respective journeys as much as we can. Perhaps one day we might need each other to chase our dreams.

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