Washington Trip Elevates Students’ Self-Standards

COLUMBUS, Ga. - Four Columbus State University undergraduates are energized with a renewed sense of purpose after participating in the 40th Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

The mid-September event involved private and public sector leaders and experts discussing African-American community challenges from economic security to the environment.

Among the programs, an “Emerging Leaders” roundtable piqued the interests of seniors Brandon Williams and Michael Ikuesan and juniors Philip King and Avery Rosser.

The roundtable left each of the Columbus State students hungry to emulate the participants, who included Obama administration policy professionals and state-level elected officials, such as Alisha Morgan, who, at age 23, became the youngest person ever elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2000.

Morgan’s feat and her words during the roundtable resonated with Williams, an exercise science major. “Witnessing the roundtable and especially hearing Rep. Morgan say ‘We are the future of tomorrow, but we need to start today,’ really opened my eyes to how far I can push myself and expand my goals.”

The impression on Williams illustrates the trip’s purpose and its parent initiative, Projecting Hope, said CSU Student Development Specialist Bernard McCrary, who accompanied the students to Washington.

McCrary developed Projecting Hope to boost recruitment and retention of African-American males, especially students from rural and small-town backgrounds like Williams (Thomasville) and Rosser (Greenville). In its second year, the program was initiated through CSU’s Office of Diversity Programs and Services with funding via the University System of Georgia’s African American Male Initiative.

The words, “be a movement, not a monument,” from Baltimore minister Jamal Bryant during a prayer breakfast speech, linger in King’s conscience. “Before the conference, I felt good about a 3.0 GPA, but (Bryant’s) message is helping me keep focused on making the most of every day and every resource available to me to be a 4.0 student.”

Rosser, who, like King, is a criminal justice-pre-law major, said listening to, and being part of, a gathering of high-achieving professionals close to his age, has provided invaluable perspective. I thought I was doing OK for myself, but now I’m thinking, ‘wow, it’s really competitive out there and I have a lot to do in order to build a competitive resume for myself.’”

Ikuesan, a middle grades education major specializing in mathematics, echoed Rosser. “The energy around the conference has given me a different drive and motivation to really be a difference-maker for the students I will be teaching.” said Ikuesan, who is teaching under mentor supervision this semester at Reese Road Elementary School in Columbus.

The education-focused programs he attended during the conference emphasized the philosophy of engaging young students in an interactive classroom environment. “Children best learn when they experience what they are learning,” he said.

In addition to the conference, the CSU group visited landmarks such as the Arlington Cemetery, Capitol Hill and the Watergate Hotel. They also toured and heard about graduate programs at Howard and George Washington universities, accompanied by communication professor and 2009 CSU Educator of the Year Nikita Harris, a doctoral graduate of Howard.

Rosser shared insight from the trip with a freshman seminar class taught by McCrary. Rosser recounted details ranging from the Emerging Leaders forum to advice on applying for employment with the executive branch of the federal government.

McCrary said he is working to continue these types of trips and encourage more participants to share their experiences with other students.

“The experience raised my political and global awareness,” Rosser said. “It’s given me a better sense of where I am and where I need to be.”