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Students ‘LEAP’ Into History, Politics With Presidential Library Trip

Jan. 31, 2014
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt, Mike Yawn

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(from left, going around) Joycelyn Ovalle, Melva Gomez, Trevor Meysembourg, Zach Goodlander, Katie Richardson, Coby Steele, Constance Gabel and Ashley Richardson role play in the replica "Situation Room" at the George Bush Presidential Library. —Submitted photos

 

Students with the Sam Houston State University Center for Law, Engagement and Politics took a field trip on Jan. 29 to College Station, where they were immersed in the study of history, current issues and future careers.

The students enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of the Bush Presidential Library, met with one of the library’s archivists, and learned lessons in bipartisanship.

The students kicked off their tour with a presentation by SHSU alumna Elizabeth Staats, who works as an archivist for the National Archives and Records Administration.

Staats gave the students a peek into the inner workings of a presidential library, showing off some of the 40 million pages of documents that make up the Bush Presidential Library.

Reviewing these documents, particularly those relating to transcribed conversations President George H.W. Bush had with world leaders, constitutes a large share of Staats’s work, and it is these documents which are then made available to historians, journalists and academic researchers.

Staats, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and a Master of Arts degree in history at SHSU, got her start in the field with an internship at the Bush Library. She encouraged students to “study hard,” “ask questions,” and put themselves in a position to “gain hands-on learning and to observe professionals at work.”

“The overview was great,” said Zach Goodlander, a member of the LEAP Center Student Advisory Board. “We learned about new career opportunities, while also getting a different perspective on presidential research.”

The students also conducted their own informal “presidential research” by touring the Bush Presidential Library, which features recently added interactive features such as a “Situation Room” as well as long-standing exhibits such as a large piece of the Berlin wall.

(Above) SHSU alumna Elizabeth Staats, an archivist at the George Bush Presidential Library, provides and overview of the library's research holdings and her duties to current SHSU students. (Below, from left) Coby Steele, Ashley Richardson, Trevor Meysembourg, Katie Richardson and Melva Gomez role play in a replica of the Oval Office at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station.

The tour was impressive and educational, according to the students.

“My favorite was the Oval Office,” said Melva Gomez, a senior political science major. “I hope to be there one day, perhaps briefing the president.”

The day culminated with presentations by public figures who have spent much of their careers in and out of the Oval Office and other halls of power.

In an event sponsored by the Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service, former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY), and Erskine Bowles, former White House Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton discussed their efforts to transform the budgeting process and reduce the national debt. Andy Card, who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, acted as moderator.

Simpson and Bowles were appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010 to chair a bipartisan committee tasked with formulating a plan for reducing the national debt. Their plan failed, but they have toured the country, promoting their ideas, which include reforms of Social Security, defense funding, the tax code and the health care system.

The men took on issues dear to their own parties.

Simpson, a Republican, called for ending loopholes in the tax code and for cutting the military budget which, he said, is greater than the combined budgets of the next 17 largest military budgets in the world. Bowles, a Democrat, called for entitlement reform.

They both called for a restructuring of Social Security—a call, they note, that evokes the greatest share of the angry mail they receive.

At least one protester bypassed the mail and delivered anger directly, interrupting the event for three-four minutes with a loud harangue, during which she referred to the men as “genocidal accountants” and compared the speakers to Nazis.

“It definitely added a note of tension to the event,” said Ashley Richardson, an SHSU freshman accounting major. “But even that was educational, allowing us to see how practiced speakers respond to protesters.”

For the most part, however, the speakers struck a humorous and cooperative tone.
Simpson introduced his remarks by commenting on the cold, noting that, “it was so cold, I saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets.”

Bowles directed his introductory remarks to President George H. W. Bush, who was in the audience, referring to him “the most caring and decent man I have ever worked with.”

This spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation was a great reminder for the SHSU student group, which included Democrats, Republicans, and independents, all of whom were working together after hours to make their futures—and their country—a little brighter.

Founded in the fall of 2013, The LEAP Center promotes brighter futures for SHSU students by offering learning opportunities across diverse disciplines.

In its first semester, the center sponsored more than 25 learning and volunteer opportunities for students, including attendance at luncheons with leading public figures, hosting law-related activities, promoting meaningful volunteerism in the community, and coordinating unique educational field trips.

For more information about the LEAP Center, visit LEAPatshsu.wordpress.com.

 

 

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