I left Chicago on a rainy day and was welcomed in Washington D.C. with a bright and sunny 81 degree day. It was also the first day of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Fortunately, I had time to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial Park and pay respect to all of the veterans (men and women) as well as those who fought and sacrificed to preserve democracy throughout our nation’s history.
On Friday, March 23, the NEIU alumni reception in Washington D.C. at the University Clubkicked off more than 20 NEIU alumni and friends shared their personal NEIU success stories. NEIU President Sharon Hahs, Suleyma Perez, Executive Director of Government Relations, and Jon Hageman, Presidential Fellow were also present. On March 26 and 27, the NEIU group also attended the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities HACU’s 17th Annual National Capitol Forum to advocate on behalf of Title V and other higher education funding and legislation.
At the alumni reception, the University Club was very warm and inviting, the perfect location for an intimate gathering. For more than 100 years, the University Club has stood as one of the Nation’s historic membership organizations. The club’s stately red brick edifice is situated among an enclave of cultural, scientific and diplomatic institutions, with the White House just a few blocks away. It was clear that there was a common bond that connected everyone, a sense of NEIU pride and commitment reverberated through the room. All those present agreed that NEIU fosters meaningful relationships and lifelong friendships. Interestingly, several alums were invited to the reception by their former NEIU professors, a tribute to the connections that are never forgotten.
As we all listened and enjoyed each others’ stories, we realized that we must all do our best to expand our NEIU mentorship program to create opportunities for our current and future graduates. We learned that there are nearly 600 NEIU alumni in the DC area, which is an outstanding networking opportunity for our students. The NEIU Alumni Association says it best, “It’s all about connections!”
At the HACU Capitol Forum, the NEIU group met with Jose Rico, Director of White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Congressman Mike Quigley, Senator Dick Durbin andMark Kirk’s education congressional staff. The agenda was intensive and very productive. Sessions at the Capitol Forum included Funding Opportunities at the Federal Level and 2012 Election: HSIs and the New National Agenda. Representatives from FEMA, EPA, and DHS discussed grants and contract opportunities available for HSI and other HACU-member institutions. Again, President Hahs was front and center making sure that the NEIU agenda was heard. During lunch, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, explained that there are approximately 72,000 federal employees and many of them will retire in the near future. This is certainly an opportunity for NEIU graduates. During dinner, I took the opportunity to give Jose Ricoan NEIU lapel pin and as I placed the pin and I said, “Jose, you are not only an NEIU alum, you are also our goodwill ambassador. Please continue to support NEIU and our future graduates.”
As a Northeastern Trustee, community member, and as a parent, I realize that it is our responsibility and obligation to provide a quality education to our students and future young generations. On my plane ride back to Chicago, my final thoughts were that all those present from NEIU and other universities were very energetic and excited about building a coalition with HACU members for the benefit of their universities. Everyone expressed the same mission – we all want our students to do well and prosper. Education is the key to our future success. The forum was well worth it, special thanks to Suleyma Perez, for all of her great work in planning our itinerary. I hope to attend future HACU meetings and advocate on behalf of NEIU.
By Jin Lee – NEIU Trustee