FSU Alumni Inspire Public Service at “Pathways” Conference
On Saturday, Oct. 29, dozens of Frostburg State University students participated in the first ever “Forging a Pathway to Public Service” conference in the Lane University Center. During the event, students from a wide range of majors and backgrounds interacted with panels of prominent FSU alumni with successful careers in government, education, and non-profit management.
The focus of the daylong conference was to expose students to the rewarding benefits of public service, and to discuss how a Frostburg State education prepares students for success in a public career field. The event was sponsored by the FSU Department of Student and Community Involvement, the J. Glenn Beall Jr. Institute for Public Affairs, ASTAR! Western Maryland AmeriCorps program, the FSU Foundation, Inc., and the FSU Leadership Studies minor.
Frostburg State political science professor Tim Magrath, who serves as the executive director of the Beall Institute, was one of the conference’s organizers. He discussed the correlation between the mission of the Beall Institute and the motivation behind the creation of the event, explaining that, “J. Glenn Beall left a significant amount of money to the university, with the hope that we would try to instill in our students the importance of public service. What better way to do that than to bring some of our alumni that have done that back to the university… one direction that we hope our students will consider is a career in public service or public affairs.”
Dr. Tom Bowling, FSU Vice President for Student Affairs, gave welcoming remarks and noted the esteemed history that the institution has with regard to student civic engagement, citing recent recognition from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). Bowling also introduced the conference’s opening speaker, Tom Slater, an FSU alumnus with a distinguished career in education and law who currently serves in the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.
During his remarks, Slater discussed how student involvement during his time at Frostburg inspired him and many of his classmates to pursue careers in public service. In 1963, during Slater’s time as a student at then-Frostburg State College, the student body and faculty banded together to peacefully protest restrictions on academic free speech. The grassroots student movement ultimately led to the resignation of the institution’s president, Dr. R. Bowen Hardesty. Slater told the audience, “this involvement made a lasting impression on all students who were there at the time… I attribute my [lifelong] involvement to Frostburg. Frostburg is where it started, so I expect and hope that many of you will follow in the footsteps of those who came before you.”
After Slater’s opening remarks, students heard from a panel of alumni currently working in legislative government. Ms. Carol Krimm, a Delegate who represents Fredrick County in the Maryland General Assembly, said that her time at Frostburg was “instrumental in shaping my professional career.” She went on to stress the importance of becoming engaged in public life, and reminded students, “the path [in your professional life] may not be clear, but you have to be open to how that path might unfold for you.”
Speaking alongside Krimm on the first panel were three alumni currently working for members of the United States Congress. Max Green, a staffer in the Baltimore office of U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, spoke about how Frostburg State University, and specifically his internship through the J. Glenn Beall Jr. Institute for Public Affairs, shaped his life. He said that the Congressional internship he took part in while at FSU “completely impacted my life path,” and taught him that public service “comes out of a desire to help others.”
Fabion Seaton, who currently serves as press secretary for Congressman Elijah Cummings, also attributed his success in public service to his Beall Institute internship, and called his enrollment in FSU the best decision he ever made. He explained, “Frostburg is set apart because of opportunities for engagement and close relationships.” He went on to encourage students to overcome a fear of failure, and stressed the transformative role mentors can play to young professionals in public service.
The fourth member of the panel, Robin Summerfield, is Senator Cardin’s Western Maryland Field Representative. He too discussed the important role Frostburg played in developing his career in public service, saying, “Engagement at Frostburg made me an engaged citizen and an engaged leader in a way that I had never been challenged to be before.” He spoke at length about the civic responsibility of public service, and concluded, “Public service isn’t a job, it’s a way of life. Some of us have the honor of doing it for a job, but everyone should be doing it, whether it’s in your professional or your private life.”
Following the first panel, participating students had the opportunity to ask the alumni speakers questions, network, and seek professional advice. Hunter Wright, a sophomore double major in Political Science and Economics, found this part of the conference to be especially useful. “I felt like I could really relate to the panelists who did what I am doing now, and it was great to be here and to be to get advice on applying for jobs and marketing yourself as an applicant” Wright said.
Another FSU student participating in the conference was senior political science major Maggie Hobbins, who is hoping to take part in a Beall Institute internship of her own in the spring 2017 semester. She also felt that this event was incredibly helpful, saying, “getting to meet the different panelists today…helped to give me a great insight on how to carry and prepare myself for my future. The tips and wisdom in the questions they discussed were also very insightful.”
Following a lunch reception where students were able to further interact with alumni, the conference reconvened with the second panel, one comprised of FSU graduates working in public education and the non-profit sector. Aaron Deeb, a former captain of the FSU Bobcats football team and currently an educator in Montgomery County, spoke about the impact that his professors had on his desire to become an educator. Deeb said, “If it weren’t for the experiences I had here at FSU, I wouldn’t be who I am as a person or as a teacher. I look for opportunities to help my students,” citing times when Frostburg faculty went out of their way to help him as a student.
Representing the non-profit sector on the second panel was Ken Oldham, President and CEO of United Way of Fredrick County, Mary Beth Pirolozzi, Executive Director of County United Way, Inc., and Courtney Thomas, Executive Director of Allegany County HRDC. All three alumni discussed the commitment and passion necessary to work in the professional work of non-profits. Pirolozzi, who is a former FSU employee, told students that, “the beauty of Frostburg State is that you can be anything you want to be. You can find great mentors and great advisors.”
Following the second panel, the conference concluded with remarks from Al Feldstein, former Appalachian Regional Commission Program Manager for Maryland. In his closing statements, Feldstein implored students to seek out opportunities to positively impact their communities, saying, “Whether public service be your job or volunteer experience, you will never forget it, the people you helped, the impact you made.”