August 1, 2002
With the news focused on corporate misconduct, political entanglements, and stocks in freefall, students attending the 20th Annual Economics Institute received a first hand glimpse of the confluence of politics and business during two of their July visitations.
Geared to students entering their senior year of high school, the six week summer program is designed to provide challenging opportunities both in terms of actual work experience and meetings with various elements of the business and governmental community. A wide variety of companies throughout the area serve as individual sponsors and provide internships within their organizations.
In 1982, St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School, working in conjunction with the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, initiated a cooperative educational project to expose students to real life business and economic endeavors. It has expanded to include students from Alexandria public schools and Bishop Ireton.
According to Jack K. Henes, the Institute's Director, "Student interns are recommended by their schools and then selected based on their academic status and leadership potential." An application and business interview are used to make the final selection and placement.
This year 23 students from St. Stephen's & St. Agnes, T.C. Williams, Bishop Ireton, and Robert E. Lee interned in organizations ranging from banking, to management, to city government. Interns work an eight hour day, four days a week schedule. The other day is devoted to field trips where they interact with business and political leaders, according to Henes.
"Students are paid an honorarium and have the opportunity to earn academic credit in economics," he said. Scholarship awards are made to outstanding interns at the conclusion of the program each year.
ON JULY 10 the Class of 2002 spent the morning around the conference table at the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, 801 N. Fairfax St. First, they were introduced to the role that organization plays within the economic and political fabric of the community.
"Most of the people you are working for this summer are members of the Chamber," said Ken Moore, Chamber President and CEO. "We have a 30 member Board of Directors and our budget is approximately $1 million annually."
Moore explained, "One of the main goals of the Chamber is to improve the quality of life in the community. In order to do that we have a program geared to improving education. At the end of the day we want to help prepare you for the world of work."
Following Moore, the students participated in an interactive seminar presented by Kimberly Geddings, President, Harmony Works, Inc., headquarters on Gardner Drive in Alexandria. It was entitled "Learning and Communicating About Yourself To Achieve Your Goals."
Geddings emphasized, "One of the essential elements to being a good leader is to know who you really are. It's necessary to have a strong sense of values."
During her two hour session, Geddings got the students to not only interact with one another but to focus on their own individual talents and abilities in relationship to their long term goals. She achieved this through a series of exercises designed to concentrate on their personal definition of success and "setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals" which she listed as "Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based."
Their exposure to the role of the Chamber and self introspection was then counterbalanced on July 17 by a visit to Capitol Hill. There they visited a Congressional office and the headquarters of a lobbying firm which specializes in representing the interests of defense contractors and issues focused on fuel issues impacting the environment.
DURING THEIR VISIT with US Representative James P. Moran, Jr. (D-8), they did not shy away from the hard questions. Mateen Khan, of T.C.Williams, asked, "Would you consider opening a program for Muslim constituents similar to the one for latinos."
"Absolutely," Moran assured. "I have met with all my constituents and have been very forceful in trying to get to the bottom of several incidents of what I consider harassment by the customs officials of the Muslim community."
He fielded a wide range of questions ranging from his feeling on the challenge to The Pledge of Allegiance to his reelection plans.
Nathan McClafferty, another T.C.Williams student, inquired, "If you knew that MBNA was interested in the bankruptcy bill why did you take money from them at the same time?"
Moran's response was, "The bankruptcy bill is backed by the entire Virginia delegation, Democrats and Republicans. MBNA held two large credit card balances of ours and they offered to consolidate them by refinancing our home mortgage. The Washington Post made the accusation I got the loan to back the bankruptcy bill. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
"Every bank and every retail enterprise has an interest in the bankruptcy legislation. I don't have a problem with debt being forgiven. I do have a problem with people, who have large assets, escaping all debt. I also believe that if credit card companies are going to allow people to make minimum payments they should be required to tell them how long it will take to pay off the debt by making only minimum payments."
MORAN THEN predicted increasing social conflicts in the future between the haves and have nots of society. "Our growing national debt is going to affect all elements of society and particularly impact education. At the present rate of spending we will be leaving your generation with about a $10 trillion debt," he emphasized.
On that note, the students traveled just off the Hill to the Washington, D.C., offices of The Van Fleet-Meredith Group for a briefing on the intricacies of the Federal legislative process and the role of the lobbyist within that process.
Townsend Van Fleet of Alexandria, noted, "Lobbying is an essential part of the governmental process. Many of those on Congressional staffs rely on information supplied by lobbyists when analyzing the pros and cons of legislation."
He also warned that because of that it is essential to be accurate and truthful. "Our only real worth is our reputation. If you lie once and it is discovered on the Hill you might as well pack your bags and go home," he exclaimed.
"If we are asked a question about a particular item we are working on and don't know the answer, we say we don't know but we will find out," Van Fleet said. He then explained the operations of the Congress and the intricacies of the budget and appropriations process.
Van Fleet stated the largest issue facing this Congress this year, in his opinion, is the establishment of the new Department of Homeland Security. He predicted, "This will probably not be settled until the lame duck session after the fall elections."
2002's Institute will culminate with the Annual Reception at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes on Aug. 1, at 6:30 p.m. In addition to the students, it is attended by representatives of the companies where they have interned, parents, supervisors, and other VIP's.
The highlight of the evening is always the presentation of honorariums and awards capped by the naming of the winner of the $1,000 Outstanding Intern Scholarship Award.
"The recipient is determined by a combination of internship performance review, a presentation covering their experiences in the program, and their grades on four tests given throughout the summer," Henes explained.
"This year we have had the most diverse group of students in our history. There are nine countries represented within this class and it's a real testament to our strength," Henes stressed.