Political Science Students Learn From Student Conference at West Point
University of Maine political science students are gaining a new perspective on global issues thanks to an annual conference at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
“The conference was the highlight of my time at UMaine,” said junior Kevin Price, selected by the Political Science Department last year to attend the 61st Student Conference on United States Affairs (SCUSA). At the event, students from 125 colleges and universities across the country were asked to discuss the challenges the U.S. faces in a global society.
“We focused on the current economic crisis,” said Price. “We had to prepare a two page policy paper that would be presented to the President or an advisor about how to improve the economic situation.”
“My team suggested that the best way to help countries with weak economic systems would be for the U.S. to give financial aid directly to businesses instead of a government’s general fund. That way, we’d make sure the money would actually be used to help the people. We also suggested that the U.S. re-evaluate the aid we’re already giving to make sure it’s being utilized the way it should be and isn’t being wasted.
“It was a very politically diverse group that included some West Point cadets who had a more conservative approach than students from the University of San Diego who had different ideas,” said Price. “So we decided to keep our recommendations pretty much down the middle. That turned out to be a real challenge.
“We all saw the problem, but we had different ways of going about fixing it so we had to compromise. We decided to go with a somewhat liberal approach, but we made sure to include the idea of being more accountable.”
Condensing the recommendations was no easy task either, he said.
“Each of us could have written a term paper on the topic, but the idea was to leave our suggestions vague enough so that no one would be turned off by the details and would be able to flesh it out in his or her own way.”
Discussing ideas with exchange students from countries including Egypt and Nairobi gave Price a different point of view, he said.
“We heard first-hand from these international students about how our policy would affect their homeland. We realized that it’s easy to say that the government of a particular country is corrupt and that we should stop giving money. But once you put a face with a foreign country, it was difficult to have that outlook.”
Samantha Shulman, a senior who attended the student conference in 2008, said she also came away with a better understanding of other people’s perspectives.
“Our group explored different ways to deal with terrorism and discussed how using diplomacy could help decrease it. It was a pretty controversial topic since many members of my group had not only very different – but also very strong – opinions on how to tackle terrorism.
“There were people from both sides – some really conservative and others really liberal,” she continued. “They were from all different countries. I met students from Turkey, Ireland, England, and France. In the end we all got a better understanding of each other’s points of view. It was great meeting all kinds of people with different backgrounds who were interested in political science and policy making. ”
His conference featured a number of speakers including the advisor to President Carter and President Clinton and a representative from a global investment company whose job it was to travel the world and find companies in which to invest, said Price.
“He could be researching a company in China that seems promising and that could turn out to be the next Google. It seemed like a very exciting, interesting job.”
Both Price and Shulman said they enjoyed experiencing the lifestyle of a West Point cadet.
“We slept on an army issue cot with a scratchy wool blanket,” said Price. “We’d wake up at 5:30 a.m. which took some adjusting. West Point has the largest dining hall in North America. They can serve 4,000 people in 20 minutes. There was no lingering after meals. The food was quite good, though.”
Shulman said she knows now about the grueling regimen at military academies.
“The cadets go from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. with no break. It was really interesting to see the West Point culture.”