Exciting trip to Washington D.C. completes student leader’s two-year term
Valley Campus / May 4, 2016 / Written by Margaret Sanderson
Of the 12 million community college students in the U.S., only four were selected to serve on the National Leadership Council for community colleges. Danielle Armstrong from the Trinidad State Valley Campus served her second term this year along with two students from Wisconsin and one from Utah. These students spent many hours collaborating on-line as they assisted with the planning for the National Student Advocacy Conference in Washington D.C. on March 12-15. Over 200 students from across the nation attended the conference.
Just one week before the conference Armstrong’s home computer crashed and she lost the presentations she was to give. She scrambled to recreate them only to learn upon arriving that the slots for presentations had been over-booked. The student leadership team was asked to relinquish their slots. “I was a little disappointed,” she said, “but when you’re a national leader, you make some sacrifices.” On a positive note this gave her time to assist with another student’s presentation and it gave her the opportunity to discuss community college concerns with other students.
Over 200 conference participants assisted with a service project to help mulch the grounds at the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Memorials. Armstrong said it felt good to contribute to the beautification of these national historic sites.
The first keynote speaker, Martha Kanter, was nominated by President Obama in 2009 to serve as the U. S. Under Secretary of Education. She oversees federal policies for postsecondary education for the U.S. Department of Education. She talked about the American College Promise, a proposal that would make two years of community college available for free to responsible students.
Returning this year, popular consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, talked about how one voice makes a difference. He used the example of his determination decades ago to expose car manufacturers for their disregard for the safety of their customers. His persistence resulted in lifesaving vehicle laws and the redesign of faulty car parts. “His talk was exceptional,” said Armstrong. “He encouraged us to voice our opinions.” Nader’s most recent best seller is titled Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President. He would like to see a third political party that actually focuses on the issues.
Also returning was Mark Mitsui who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges. Mitsui is especially passionate about serving the underrepresented and underserved communities and is excited about working with the Department of Education. He too talked about the American College Promise as well as the Higher Education Reauthorization Act (HEA) which determines how Congress allocates funding for higher education. Armstrong explained that the 2,000-page HEA was to be revamped in 2013 but is still on hold.
The prearranged tours on Capitol Hill lasted all day, but unfortunately none of the senators or representatives were present as planned due to the derailing of the Metro (Washington D.C. subway). “When something goes a little awry in Washington D.C., everyone’s on high alert,” Armstrong said. The students met with legislative assistants instead. “We had the opportunity to meet with Senator (Cory) Gardner’s assistant who gave us a tour of the capitol and we were able to see areas not normally seen by the public. We were also given one-year passes that allow entry into the house and senate galleries but we ran out of time to use them.” Before her pass expires, Armstrong would love to go back and sit in those galleries (areas where the public can sit to watch congress in session). Her group met with House Representative Ken Buck’s staff. They were pleased that four students from Colorado were participating. Armstrong visited with them for 30 to 40 minutes. While serving on the Colorado State Student Advisory Council (SSAC), Armstrong has taken community college concerns to the state legislators for the past two years. She found it rewarding to be able to discuss some of the priorities from a student’s point of view.
Her sightseeing trips included the aerospace and holocaust museums. “Overwhelming beyond overwhelming,” was her response. She explained that visitors to the holocaust museum are given a passport of an actual holocaust victim. You become that person in a sense as you read and imagine their personal experience. Armstrong was assigned a 13 year-old girl who was sent to a gas chamber upon arrival at the concentration camp. “The set up was so real,” she said. “It was so quiet and reverent even while packed with hundreds of people.”
“Pretty cool” was her response at the aerospace museum as she saw parts of space shuttles and World War II fighter planes. “The whole conference experience was totally worth it again. I wouldn’t change it,” said Armstrong.
She will graduate May 13 with degrees in Addiction Counseling, Political Science and Psychology. Her experience with the Leadership Council for Community Colleges led to the addition of her political science degree. Over the summer she will work toward the 3,000 hours of counseling required for her CAC (Certification for Addiction Counseling) and will major in psychology at Adams State beginning this fall. She plans to get her masters in counseling. “I want to be a therapist,” she said. “Don’t ask me why I want to sit around and listen to peoples’ problems, but I do. The idea of helping somebody through a hard time in their life appeals to me. My ultimate goal is to be a family counselor.”
“What I like most about Trinidad State,” said Armstrong, “is how close the campus is. Everybody knows everybody. Faculty, staff and administration take the time to know their students and work with them when needed. Most students from other colleges do not know who the dean is and I have conversations with all three of mine almost daily.”