Students gather at state capitol for engagement

Photo by Maura Currie

Feb. 1 marked this year’s Research Institute at the Capitol Day, a half-day excursion where Tech students visit the Georgia Capitol, network with their Representatives and Senators and meet with Tech Alumni currently working in state politics.

Students left for the Capitol at 8:00 a.m., via two of Tech’s Stinger buses, and met on the first floor for coffee and refreshments with President G.P. “Bud” Peterson and the students’ respective representatives. School delegations were then split into both chambers of the General Assembly for recognition of their achievements and success as research institutes.

Formal resolutions were presented in the House and the Senate, commending Tech and the three other research institutions in the state “for their exemplary efforts and commitment to higher education in Georgia.”

Tech specifically was praised in the House resolution, HR-117, for “serving more than 25,000 students as the number seven public university in the nation, [having] a $2.87 billion annual economic impact on the state,  recently assisting 1,075 Georgia manufacturing companies and creating or saving 2,348 jobs in Georgia, as well as being number two in the nation for annualized return on investment in higher education.”

Before leaving, student delegations were given the opportunity to hear from a panel of current Representatives and state government employees who graduated from the institutes,
led by Casey Aultman from Tech’s Office of Government and Community Relations.

The panel consisted of Joe Vignati, deputy commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice; David Werner, executive counsel for the Office of the Governor,; Rep. Trey Kelley; Rep. Matt Dubnik and Sen. Ben Watson.

Aultman asked questions previously submitted by students in attendance from all of the institutions. Subjects covered included day-to-day work schedule, how they became involved in government work and recommendations for students aspiring to find fulfilling work.

The panel was well received by students, many of whom were having their first interactions with Georgia legislators.

“This was my first time ever going to the state capitol, and it was very interesting to see the House of Representatives in action during session,” said Janelle Owusu, second-year PUBP student. “I also enjoyed hearing from the college alumni during the panel because it was interesting to think that they were once me at some time.”

The event was organized by Aultman and advertised by the Student Government Association. Sara Dada, fourth-year PUBP and vice president of External Affairs for Tech’s student government, conducted the event signup and helped organize the event with Aultman.

“Research Institute Day is a combination of Georgia’s four research institutes: [Tech], UGA, Augusta University and Georgia State,” Dada said. “So today we all brought our student delegations, ranging from about 30 to 60 students, depending on the school, to the Capitol along with the Institutes’ presidents and the student body presidents. They were recognized on the floor of the House and the Senate just to say, ‘look, we have these four great research institutes in our state. They do a lot for us  … don’t forget about these schools.’”

Research Institute Day is a more recent event, since previously every school in the University System of Georgia (USG) had its own day to market itself at the Capitol, according to Dada.

“Research Institute Day came about because, in the past, every single school in Georgia — so that’s 28 USG schools — would come down in Georgia and each one would have their own day where they would set up all these tables and booths and they would take over the Capitol,” Dada said. “It kind of became a bit of showmanship; every school was trying to be the most exciting day, have the most food, have the most elaborate set-up.”

Dada added that Research Institute Day is an opportunity for these colleges, but Tech especially, to show off its students.

She emphasized that a large part of bringing students to the Capitol was to meet their legislators, especially those who are Tech graduates, and show these students that although Tech is a research institution, there is a great amount of overlap with government work and that they should explore careers in that field.

Currently, nine members of the House of Representatives are graduates from the Institute.

The overall purpose of the visit, Dada said, was to encourage students to be more informed and involved in state politics and to create more awareness about news
as it breaks.

“What I really hope to do through Day at the Capitol is just, first of all, to get students
out there and aware of the Capitol. It’s so close, and they have such a huge impact on our University, our experiences as students,” Dada said. “Now, maybe as news continues to roll out over the next couple of weeks and goes on, they’ll recognize something, they’ll pick up on something and they’ll keep looking back at it and kind of stay in the loop more so than in the past.

“I’ve never really considered State Government to be of interest until I interned in the Capitol. There are so many opportunities to kind of get plugged in and do something and … make your voice heard. I think that’s one of the most important lessons Day at the Capitol can teach students, is that there are opportunities for that.”