Four Southwestern Michigan College leadership students visited Lansing June 13 for insight into Michigan government. Besides touring the State Capitol, Audrey Adamson, Darrian Ellsworth, Kyle Kelly and Martin Paskiewicz met two of southwest Michigan’s legislative voices, Sen. Kim LaSata and Rep. Aaron Miller, plus Michael Hansen, Michigan Community College Association president.
Miller, R-Sturgis, is serving his second term. His 59th House District encompasses St. Joseph County and most of Cass County, including the City of Dowagiac and Calvin, Jefferson, LaGrange, Marcellus, Mason, Newberg, Penn, Pokagon, Porter, Volinia and Wayne townships.
Miller has a Western Michigan University bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a Bethel College master’s degree in school administration. He taught middle and high school mathematics and coached tennis, track and cross country before becoming a lawmaker.
LaSata, R-St. Joseph, uses her educational background chairing the Appropriations Subcommittee on Universities and Community Colleges. Before her election to the 21st District Senate seat last November, she served one term, 2017-18, in the House of Representatives. LaSata taught in the Lake Michigan Catholic school system, her alma mater, where she was selected 2015 Teacher of the Year. She has WMU bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Kelly, a STEM major from Cassopolis, wants to take “everything I learn in chemistry, physics and psychology and apply them to the study of neuroscience. I had two big takeaways. One is that even though it may seem like politicians are different than the average person, they are not. They lead regular lives. They struggle to balance work and home life and they can get overwhelmed with emotion while discussing ideas important to them. They are just regular people who got tired of waiting to see the change that they want.”
Kelly’s other takeaway is that it’s “really hard to have productive arguments when each side is so emotionally invested in their views — myself included. We waste a lot of time in heated, unproductive arguments. Time we don’t have!”
Adamson, Georgia business administration major, is an orientation leader (OL) and a summer residence hall assistant (RA). Online research helped her to identify SMC as her college destination.
“The Capitol was beautiful!” Adamson said. “The detail of every room I saw was unbelievable. What stood out most to me was the history of how they began the remodels. The tour guide explaining how it worked was fascinating.”
Paskiewicz, 34, from Grand Rapids, also seeks a STEM degree “ending at Master of Engineering or Ph.D. in physics. I plan to do some teaching while working on my later degrees.”
The “politically-minded” Paskiewicz said, “People only wish to discuss top-level issues and never the root of the problem as the root is hard and sometimes damning to people who undertake the task of doing what is right. Challenging local issues are truly not any different than national issues.”
“I’m working to place students with mentors, as well,” Vice President of Student Services Dr. Joe Odenwald said. For example, introducing Adamson to Ginny Crawford, former SMC Foundation president and ExxonMobil Global Chemical Co.’s top human resources manager before retiring in 2012; Kaley Brogan with Dr. Carole Schmidt, current SMC Foundation president who retired in 2016 after five years as South Bend superintendent and three years each in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph; and Kelly with Terry Groth, a Dowagiac school board member employed as an engineering supervisor in the nuclear power industry.
Brogan, from Eau Claire, graduated from SMC in May. She works in SMC’s Office of First Year Experience and plans to continue through Ferris State University to obtain her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and become a teacher.
The 10-week leadership class, which also includes Jessica Flagel and Pele Lei Sam, heard Dowagiac City Manager Kevin Anderson June 14 and accountant and SMC Trustee Becky Moore June 21. Speakers also include SMC Registrar Steve Carlson, a certified strengths assessment administrator; President Dr. David Mathews; veteran Andrew Churchill of Ferris State University; Testing Center Manager Kristen Lownds, a former school counselor on inclusion; and Groth. The class has another road trip scheduled for Aug. 1 to visit the South Bend Cubs organization.
“Part of Student Services’ overall strategy is providing multiple student leadership-development opportunities to support a dynamic student-led campus life,” Odenwald said. Each participant completes a portfolio comprised of short exercises, journal entries and the individual’s personal leadership vision, mission and style. They completed an application process, including obtaining a recommendation letter from a faculty or staff member.
Service is a required component, including building a cardboard craft to race on July 18 in United Way of Southwest Michigan’s Rock the Boat event and volunteering at the 45th Steve’s Run benefiting cancer research and scholarships on July 27.