Students Take a First-Hand Look at Policy and Power
Anne Wang, an international business major at California State University, Dominguez Hills, is glad that her presidency of the campus’s Association of Political Science Students (APSS) came about as the higher profile race for another presidency was occurring.
“I’m lucky that I came into the presidency of APSS this semester,” she says. “It’s been really exciting to be in a leadership role during a presidential election. I’m not taking any sides, but Barack Obama’s campaign is getting students more interested. The fact that there are problems forces [young] people to become aware of the issues and to look at what kind of leadership we have in our country.”
Wang and Henry Fields, APSS' vice president, are enthusiastic over the fact that APSS has tripled its membership this semester from 20 to more than 90 members after they made presentations to political science classes during the first weeks of the fall semester. The club hopes to encourage this newfound political awareness with the new “Meet Your Local Representative/Foreign Dignitary” program, sponsored by APSS. The brainchild of the club’s advisor, assistant professor of political science Hamoud Salhi, the program encourages students to consider careers in government through opportunities to meet with local officials and get a first-hand look at what they do and how they got there.
“[The program] really helps us to see our future in a clearer sense,” says Fields, a senior majoring in political science. “It reaffirms that political careers are attainable for us. When we meet our local representatives and dignitaries, they explain to us how they got interested in politics. It also helps us figure out if we want to give back to our communities by entering politics.”
Last Monday, members of APSS visited the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Burke (2nd Dist.). Featured speakers were Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, Carson commissioner and Supervisor Burke’s senior deputy Del Huff and L.A. County director of Community and Senior Services Cynthia Banks (Class of ’76, B.A., behavioral science).
Wang is impressed by the fact that numerous policymakers in local, state, and national government are graduates of CSU Dominguez Hills.
“To see so many CSU Dominguez Hills alumni who have positions in city government is incredible and to be able to talk with them was reassuring for us,” she says.
The CSUDH students, as well as students from Dorsey High School, were welcomed by Burke’s senior legislative deputy Gerardo Pinedo (Class of ’01, B.A., interdisciplinary studies/public administration). Pinedo points out that visiting with local government officials greatly enhances the classroom experience for students.
“They get to interact with the officials rather than just reading about them in textbooks,” says Pinedo, who serves as a lecturer in human resources and criminal justice at his alma mater. “What we’re hoping will happen is that students will take the concepts and theories they learn in the classroom and be able to formulate those into questions and productive dialogue with the elected officials, which will allow them to take something back to share with other students.”
Supervisor Burke recognized the visitors with a proclamation from the County of Los Angeles. Fields and Wang presented her with a token of appreciation from the members of APSS. A Q&A session with Banks, Gin and Pinedo was followed by a tour of the offices and the chance to watch a portion of the Board of Supervisors meeting.
Professor Salhi says that the chance to “personalize politics” for students achieves an important educational goal.
“With a little bit of hard work, [the students] can achieve what these people have achieved,” he says, “after the opportunity to hear about the struggles these individuals went through in school themselves, and after . . . learning to network in the field of politics.”
Fields, a 39-year-old veteran of the Gulf War, says that today’s traditional-age college student is more in tune with local and national politics than his generation at that age.
“Our students are very informed on state as well as national issues and they want our leadership to understand that students have real concerns,” he says. “They are focused on the war and care about the troops, but are really concerned about the state of the economy, about joblessness, and the lack of financial aid since there isn’t a budget signed by the governor as of yet.”
APSS plans to place special focus on the presidential race, with pre-election activities on campus that include a viewing of the candidates’ debates on Sept. 26, a presidential election forum on Oct. 22, and a post-election forum on Nov. 19. Other activities this semester include a visit to the Mexican consulate and a voter registration drive.
Fields says that the organization and its election-related events are committed to providing equal time for all political viewpoints.
“One thing that we are very proud of is that we allow students to voice their opinion in an open forum, regardless of political affiliation,” he says. “Everyone’s views are respected among the group. Democrats can learn about Republican issues, young Republicans can learn about Democrats’ issues and Independents can learn [what is] in their best interest as well.”
“It’s an exciting election year,” he notes. “It’s important for students to voice their opinions and to understand that their voice counts.”
The Association of Political Science Students meets every two weeks at 5:30 p.m. in the Loker Student Union. For more information on APSS or on its pre-election activities at CSUDH, contact Professor Salhi at (310) 243-3982, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Joanie Harmon
Photo above: Anne Wang (at left) and Henry Fields, president and vice president of the Association of Political Science Students, receive a proclamation from Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Burke during a visit to Burke's office.
Photo by Joanie Harmon