Berkeley Students Visit Capitol Hill for a Unique Learning Experience

While Berkeley College is known for its experienced professors who bring their first-hand professional experience to the classroom, a group of students recently traveled to Washington, DC for a different kind of hands-on learning experience. Student Hill Day, as it’s known at Berkeley, offers a unique opportunity for students to meet with senators, members of the House of Representatives, and other key legislators in their actual working environments.

The chance to walk the halls of Congress

“We began Student Hill Day in 2016,” said Teri Duda, Senior Vice President of Government Relations at Berkeley, who accompanied the students on the trip. “It’s an incredible experience for the students to be able to walk the halls of Congress and have one-on-one conversations with the representative who are responsible for our government. We were able to meet with Senator Robert Menendez, Congressmen Josh Gottheimer, Donald Norcross, Albio Sires, Bill Pascrell, and Jefferson Van Drew, as well as numerous legislative aides.”

Student with Congressman Bill Pascrell

Acting as student ambassadors

“Exhilarating and humbling” were two of the words Quennel Gibson used to describe his Student Hill Day experience. “We actually met [Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos, who posed for a picture with us!” remarked Quennel, a Business Administration major from New York who hopes to graduate in 2020. Meeting Josh Gottheimer, the U.S. Representative for New Jersey's 5th congressional district, also stood out for Quennel, who remembered, “He made us feel very comfortable, but he really grilled me about my Student Government experiences! It was an honor to act as a student ambassador for Berkeley College.”

One-on-one conversations with congressmen

El Mehdi Bendriss, a student in Berkeley’s Honors Program at the College’s Paramus, NJ campus, agreed. “It was a packed schedule. We were able to do and see so much. I was also amazed at the pace of the schedule of the legislators—we were speaking with Congressman Gottheimer when he was called away for a voting session. But he still took the time to answer our questions and ask us about our experiences and concerns.” El Mehdi also works part-time in Berkeley’s Government Relations department while working toward his Bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies

Proud to represent first-generation college students

Roscely Medina and NJ SenatorStudent Hill Day was the first trip to the nation’s capital for Roscely Medina, a Business Administration major. As a first-generation college student born to parents from Honduras and the Dominican Republic, it was a particular thrill to meet New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, whose parents were Cuban immigrants. “He was extremely busy, but was genuinely interested in what we had to say,” said Roscely, who plans to graduate from Berkeley in 2021 and hopes to open her own business. She was honored to be selected for the trip to Washington. She continued, “These kinds of experiences really make a difference. Students should take advantage of as many opportunities outside of the classroom as possible—joining clubs, making connections—it all makes a difference.”

Learning that goes beyond the classroom

“We’re fortunate to be able to offer opportunities like Student Hill Day for our students,” noted Dr. Dallas Reed, Vice President of Student Development and Campus Life at Berkeley. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that really has an impact on them. It was incredible to watch them share their stories with those who represent us in government.” Dr. Reed also pointed out that, “The opportunity speaks to the commitment we have here at Berkeley to provide real-world learning that goes beyond the classroom.” 

Despite a hectic itinerary, the group also managed to see some of Washington’s most famous sights, including the White House, Lincoln Memorial, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, among others. Timing also worked out perfectly, as the group’s visit coincided with the famous cherry blossom time, which attracts visitors from around the world.

A bonding experience for students

Dr. Reed also commented about the bonding experience for students from across Berkeley’s New York and New Jersey campuses. “We look for a well-rounded group of students to represent Berkeley College. They met for the first time on the train, but had an experience they will never forget.”

Veteran/entrepreneur honored to participate

“It was a great honor to be a part of Student Hill Day,” said Crystal Campbell, a U.S. Army veteran who is still in the Army Reserve. The 2019 graduate with a degree in Fashion Merchandising and Management also commented that, “It was a very educational experience. I have a much better understanding that my voice actually matters. Everyone we met was very down-to-earth. They were happy to spend time with us.” As a current business owner, Crystal credits both her military experience and her education for her ability to make decisions. “It gave me the courage to be an entrepreneur,” she said.

To learn more about degree and certificate programs at Berkeley, and opportunities through Berkeley’s Student Development and Campus Life Department, visit BerkeleyCollege.edu.

 The views and/or opinions in this article are those of the individuals interviewed. The academic achievements and/or employment outcomes described in this article are specific to each individual, and are not a guarantee of similar results for past or current students. For up-to-date and detailed information, please visit BerkeleyCollege.edu and view our catalogs at BerkeleyCollege.edu/publications. For more information about Berkeley College graduation rates, the median debt of students who completed programs, and other important disclosures, please visit BerkeleyCollege.edu/disclosures.

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