Playing Politics for Regional Campuses

Zach Sparks stands at The Ohio State University at Newark smiling in front of McConnell HallZach Sparks, junior psychology major (attended Regional Campus Day at the Ohio Statehouse on February 12 with fellow student Jesse McAndrew and Ohio State Newark Dean/Director William L. MacDonald, PhD.)

Regional Campus Day at the Ohio Statehouse was the most stereotypical political experience you could imagine. Not the TV-soundbite, petty back-and-forth politics dominating the news cycle right now, mind you, but the real, honest-to-God political legwork that is constantly happening behind the scenes of every political decision being made.

We started the day going to a conference room with all the other students and deans to meet with Chancellor Randy Gardner. When we arrived, some of the other students were sharing their stories and explaining why regional campuses were important to them. We got to hear about the challenges of being a nontraditional student from a mom with three kids, a tale of being an involved and active student from a student government president, and the experience of being an immigrant from Europe coming to learn in the U.S. with hopes to become a citizen. These stories, along with the others we heard, each highlighted a different element to the regional campus experience, and it was amazing to be able to hear from so many other students from across Ohio. Afterward, the chancellor discussed why he cared about regional campuses and how much he appreciated us coming, and he wished us luck as we began our day of politicking.

After this meeting with all the day’s attendees, we all dispersed to begin meeting with our respective state senators and representatives. We were booked for four meetings throughout the day — two senators and two representatives — and each of these meetings followed the same pattern: We would show up at our registered time; the congressperson would actually be very busy and a staff person would meet with us instead; Jesse, Dr. MacDonald and I would all explain why we care about regional campuses; we would all thank each other, and we would leave. Simple as that.

I understand that this description of events could come off as simplistic or even a bit dismissive, but I want to strongly empathize that it isn’t meant to in any way: That’s just politics. Jesse, Dr. MacDonald and I each got to play the role of being a lobbyist for the interest of regional campuses that day, and we played the part well. Even if we were not there to take a stance on any specific legislation (something we were asked about in each office), each of those congressperson’s offices got to see three people that took the time out of their day to show up, tell their story and say “Hey, don’t forget about us.”

To me, even though I’m still pretty new to the political game, this is the most basic yet essential part of politics. We weren’t there to push any specific agenda or tell the congresspersons to vote this way or that; we were there to give a face to a very important demographic in this state. We showed up to remind the congresspeople that each of their decisions has a real impact on real people, whether that’s students who are supporting a family back home, immigrants just trying to start a life in this country or college drop-outs, like me, who need regional campuses to have a second chance.

Even though a lot of that day was spent sitting in an office waiting room or walking around lost in a 30-floor skyscraper, I’m very glad I got to be a part of it. My experience on this campus has dramatically changed my life and opened new opportunities for me, and I know many other students think the same way. Keeping regional campuses in the minds of our state legislators is so important for the success of those campuses, and I would gladly spend another day playing politics to make that happen.

A Trip to Berlin: An Alumna’s Story

Growing up, my family didn’t take many trips, so traveling abroad wasn’t on my bucket list. In high school, a group of students took a trip to London and Paris. While I wanted to go on this trip, it wasn’t in the cards for me. During my first semester at Ohio State Newark, I was exposed to a different culture that helped me be more open to new opportunities like an education abroad trip. However, I didn’t know where I wanted to go!

During the fall semester of 2015, I was encouraged to apply for the spring break trip to Berlin, Germany. I had never thought about visiting Berlin, but with German ancestry, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to get in touch with my heritage. I filled out my application, got a letter of recommendation and eagerly waited to hear back. I had several other friends who applied for the same study abroad trip, and we couldn’t wait to find out if we were accepted. The day finally came, and we were thrilled to know we would soon be traveling across the pond to Berlin.

As a college student, my biggest fear was that it was going to cost way too much. However, by subsidizing the fees, Ohio State Newark made this trip extremely affordable! At a fraction of the cost, I was able to have a meaningful experience in Germany.

As an English major, I was extremely excited about all the books we read to prepare for the trip! I loved learning about the history of Berlin. Stephanie Brown, Ph.D., associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor of English, and Stephan Evans, senior lecturer in comparative studies and German were so helpful and pushed us to learn as much as we could. One of my classmates (and best friend) and I paired up for our project and decided to study the influence of foreign architecture on Potsdam, Germany (about 40 minutes outside Berlin).

A Trip Across the Pond

The first half of the semester went by quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to head to Germany. I was one of the only people who had never flown, so I was a bit apprehensive. Not only did Dr. Brown and Professor Evans reassure me, but so did my classmates. Once we were in the air, I was ready to go!

After an overnight flight, we landed in Berlin and had a full day ahead of us. We checked into Hotel Rotdorn after a bumpy bus ride to drop off our luggage. Once we started walking around the city, I couldn’t believe I was actually in a different county. I was in awe of how the city was so different but so similar to my hometown at the same time.

Adjusting to a new time zone and learning our way around Berlin made our first day very eventful. We did a tour of the city, exchanged our money for German currency, ate a delicious dinner and went to bed. Professor Evans was our guide. He made sure we were comfortable with the area and gave us tips for being in the city. The biggest piece of advice that I was given, and that I tell everyone traveling abroad, is to wear good walking shoes! The most I walked in a day was over 12 miles, and I was exhausted!

During the trip, we visited several museums and monuments, including the Topography of Terror, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag Building, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Stasi Jail, the Jewish Museum and many other stops in between.

I learned more about the history of Germany in seven days than I thought was possible. Once you are immersed in the culture, you feel the need to learn as much as you can while you’re experiencing it firsthand.

One big difference I noticed between our group of students from Ohio State Newark and the locals was how “normal” the history seemed to them. While touring Sachsenhausen, there were several other groups of students taking tours as well. To us, being in a concentration camp was emotional and scary. We immediately felt sorrow fall over us when we walked through the gates. However, the German students touring acted as normal kids would. We felt the need to respect this area because it was taboo for us to be visiting. German students grew up surrounded by this dark history, and it all felt “normal” to them.

This experience taught me that we shouldn’t take world history for granted! I had always been interested in the Holocaust, but it wasn’t until I experienced it in person that I truly understood its impact. Visiting a concentration camp gave me a greater respect for those who lost their lives during World War II.

Heading to the Sanssouci Palace

Another notable part of the trip was our research day in Potsdam. For the first time since our arrival, we were alone and had to put our navigational skills to the test. The farther we got from Berlin, we encountered more of a language barrier. Though we got to Potsdam safely, we learned the importance of alternate ways of communication.

A group of us took a tour of the beautiful Sanssouci Palace; we couldn’t help but take photos of the stunning architecture. After the tour, my research partner and I continued to walk around the Sanssouci Park to check out the other buildings, including the Neue Palace, Chinese Teahouse, Roman Bathhouse and more.

It was so interesting to see the different foreign influences on the buildings within the Sanssouci Park! They were extremely beautiful, and if anyone travels to Germany I always recommend they visit the town of Potsdam. At the end of the day, we travelled back to Berlin to find out what our other classmates did during their research day. Everyone’s projects were so creative, and each group had a different story to tell. Germany is rich with history, and I wish we would have had more time to explore.

As we neared the end of our trip, we were trying to soak in as much culture as we could. We visited several restaurants, shops and we even watched a soccer game at the Olympic Stadium (you know, where Jesse Owens ran in the Olympics). It was such a fun-filled trip that no one wanted it to end.

Although this seven-day trip flew by quickly, it taught me that you can’t replace experiences. I had never anticipated that I would leave the United States, but this trip made me realize there is so much in the world to explore. As an alumna I hope to use my experience abroad when traveling across the country (and potentially to different countries) throughout my career.

I would go back and repeat this trip over and over again. I’m extremely thankful for the guidance of Dr. Brown and Professor Evans and the support of my classmates. If you ever have a chance to take a trip abroad, whether it be through Ohio State Newark or on your own, don’t think twice about it!

-Lauren Snyder, Ohio State Newark alumna

Lauren graduated from The Ohio State University in 2016 with her bachelor’s degree in English. Shortly after, she began her career at RevLocal as a Digital Content Specialist focusing on blogging and social media for clients. She transitioned to RevLocal’s Corporate Marketing Team as the Content Marketing Coordinator to focus on all internal and external content for the company.

Standing in front of the Sanssouci Palace with the ever-famous O-H-I-O (From left to right – Brittany Fairburn (Henry), Matt Hartshorn, Sierra Hess, Lauren Snyder).
The study abroad group posing in front of the Brandenburg Gate.
The study abroad group in front of the Reichstag Building in Berlin.
The Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, Germany.
English tutors at the top of the Reichstag Building (From left to right – Chelsea Olms, Lauren Snyder, Sierra Hess, John Wetzel).
“Work will set you free” – Gate leading into the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.
Leaving the Olympic Stadium after a soccer game.
The Neue Palace in the Sanssouci Park.