U.S. Senator Ben Cardin Pays Visit to Frostburg State University

ListeninMD Session Allows Constituents to Directly Address Senator Cardin

United States Senator Ben Cardin made a visit on Thursday, April 13, 2017 as a part of his ListeninMD tour.

Senator Cardin came to hear concerns about higher education. In order for him to hear these concerns, a student panel was held with five students who had prepared remarks on what they thought was important to bring to the Senator’s attention. The panel consisted of Student Government Association (SGA) President Nick DeMichele, SGA Vice President James Kirk, SGA Vice President Elect “J” Gourdin, senior Trevor Jones, and student Jon Huzier.

Each student was able to prepare their own remarks with the guidance of the topic being higher education. The panel started with President DeMichele and went down the line with Senator Cardin simply listening and taking notes.

DeMichele prepared remarks on higher education in regards to governance and finding ways to gauge success. He talked about the importance of shared governance and the benefits that it provides students on campus; it allows them to gain experience in the governance process, and it provides an inclusive environment in which the student feels valued. Throughout DeMichele’s comments, he stressed the importance of finding ways to gauge success. Success is traditionally gauged by an SAT score or GPA at the higher education level, however this method is becoming outdated. He urged Senator Cardin to “…focus on institutional impact on students and subsequent graduates.”

Vice President Kirk spoke after President DeMichele. Kirk spoke on the importance of “town-gown” relationships here in Frostburg. Kirk is a third generation student and stressed the importance of keeping up the “town-gown” relationships here to help the university thrive. Kirk said, “As the need for civic education and economic development increases throughout or nation, I believe that institutions of higher learning will continue to be critical drivers of progress.” An example Kirk gave was the event held on Main Street in the fall, Frostburg 101: A Taste of the City. This event is “just one of many examples of the positive impact of higher education within this community.”

Vice President Elect “J” Gourdin spoke about defining diversity after Kirk. She touched on being a culturally competent college and civically literate.  Gourdin focused on showing equity through action. She said that it was necessary to recognize “the various threads that make us who we are.”  She talked about how it was important to engage students to relate their experiences with each other.  “My hope for the future… [is] we move towards defining ourselves as a culturally competent college.”  Senior Trevor Jones talked about similar topics.  “Regardless of the ideas that you think, these are all ideas we should be open minded to,” said Jones.  He talked about dialogue sessions that he helps coordinate that he believes are very important to help cultures become more comfortable with each other.  He said that these sessions could even eliminate tensions within the campus community.  Both touched on diversity within the campus community, and what it means for the Frostburg State University campus.

Student Jon Huizer gave his background, and simply asked Senator Cardin to look into a bill that was introduced in 2007 by former Secretary Hilary Clinton, senate bill 3598.  Senator Cardin supported this bill when it was introduced.  This bill called for a public-private partnership.  “I think we have an opportunity to revisit this bill,” said Huzier.  This bill creates a four year institution centralized in Washington D.C in which tuition is completely covered upon students giving 4-5 years of public service post-graduation.

After all remarks were given, Senator Cardin responded to all of the concerns.  “I found this to be very helpful,” said Senator Cardin.  He touched on the diversity issues that were spoken about, and responded with “diversity is our strength.”  After Senator Cardin responded to the panelists, the floor was opened for a question and answer period.

Several people stood before Senator Cardin expressing concerns and wanting to know what was happening next.  A student who did not provide his name, talked about a work-back program at a university in Kentucky, and he wanted to know if that was a feasible option for us.  Director of Programs Advancing Student Success (PASS) Harriet Douglas spoke on the trio programs that the university has, as well as the expansion of PELL grants and limiting student loans.

Lisa Clark, Director of ASTAR in the office of Student and Community Involvement spoke about the Americorps and ECHOSTARS programs on campus and the impact these programs have on students lives as well as the community.  These programs are nonexistent on the fiscal year (F.Y.) 2018 budget, but help the students and communities tremendously.  Clark also talked about the money students get for being an ECHOSTAR and how that can help pay their tuition or reduce their loans.

President Nowaczyk, who was also in attendance, was called upon by Senator Cardin for the average debt a student has here at Frostburg State.  That number currently sits at $17,000 according to President Nowaczyk. Senator Cardin then added that our average debt sits about seven to eight thousand lower than other state schools, as well as having 37% of students eligible for the federal PELL grant.

Donald Boesch, the President of the University of Maryland for Environmental Science, brought to Senator Cardin’s attention the dangerous budget cuts science agencies are facing for F.Y. 2018.  He referenced that National Institute for Health (NIH) is facing a 5.5 billion dollar cut as well as NASA seeing a huge decrease in funding.  Senator Cardin responded with “I think there will be damage. I think we will figure out a way to get through this.”

Senior Michael Bartholomew added to the discussion about costs for higher education.  Bartholomew asked Senator Cardin to address “the systemic barriers to entry to higher education for the lower class.”  Senator Cardin was able to respond saying “When we look at opportunities being denied today in the United States, it is not a proud record.”  He explained that the country is not as strong as it should be in offering these opportunities.

President DeMichele closed out the ListeninMD session with a question addressing the filibuster of supreme court nominee Neil Gorusch. Senator Cardin talked about how this is a game changer within the senate, and how there is an abuse to block bills.  This has been a problem since President Obama’s presidency.  He talked about the block of all of President Obama’s nominees for the court of appeals.  The republicans for this presidency changed the rules unilaterally.  President Trump did not test his nominee to assure 60 votes, in which he would not have received.  Senator Cardin said, “Elections have consequences.”

This listening session with Senator Cardin was a part of the ListeninMD tour to hear constituent concerns.  Senator Cardin has been traveling across the state to ensure constituents that they can discuss concerns with him directly.

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