Hilltop on Hill2010

Twenty-one Journalism and Corporate Communications & Public Affairs students in Meadows School of the Arts are studying in Washington, D.C., this October for the Hilltop on the Hill 2010 program. The program is endowed by the Bauer Foundation for CCPA students wanting to study political communication on location in D.C. and at the political party conventions, the Presidential Inauguration and the G8 Economic Summit. The students spend five days in the nation’s capital, where they visit media and governmental sites and are briefed by policy analysts, political communicators and journalists.

Hard work on the Hill

An update from Derek, a junior CCPA major:

As the plane landed, I prepared myself for the ensuing experience. I had little idea of what to expect from a five-day, inside look at life on Capitol Hill or simply the Hill. However, I did know that I love Washington, D.C. Since this was not my first trip to the nation’s capital, I was eager to see a different side of the city.

I grabbed my luggage, proceeded to the Metro station and embarked on my journey. The experience was unlike any other visit to D.C. I noticed men and women dressed in business attire who scurried about the city. Everyone appeared to have an agenda or a task to complete.

Next, I overheard conversations on the street – not the usual topics such as sports, entertainment or the latest blockbuster film. Instead, I heard people discuss foreign policy, the new Supreme Court justice appointment, and peace talks in the Middle East. The people of D.C. had made news cool again. It is very difficult to be in this city and not stay current on what is happening in the world. Furthermore, staying up to date allows one to communicate and have challenging interactions. That is part of the D.C. experience.

DC3.jpg As a communications student, I have found it interesting to learn about the different ways people communicate on the Hill. I once believed that the only way to be involved with politics was to work directly with senators and representatives. After hearing from the Glover Park Group, I realized that public relations and advertising play a dramatic role in politics. Certain interest groups may ask a PR firm to help develop suitable language to present legislation or policies to the general public. It is a business that all works together to achieve a common goal.

(In photo: CCPA Assistant Professor Dan Schill with students at the Library of Congress.)

I often speak about the air of sophistication that the city exudes. It is unlike any other place in the world. One may wonder the source of such sophistication. D.C. boasts a metropolitan district, with young citizens and a high turnover rate attributes. Many people begin their careers here in entry-level positions as a way to get their foot in the door. After that, people work their way up to better positions and new jobs.

We were fortunate enough to hear from speakers who all agree that it is easy to work one’s way up to a great position with hard work. Students who dream to move to D.C. after graduation do so because they want to make a difference in an exciting way. Washington does not allow one to enter with an attitude of elitism or entitlement. Instead, it is a city that will humble and motivate one to work hard.

Each of my D.C. experiences has been vastly different. However, this experience with Hilltop on the Hill has given me a new perspective on politics and how communication affects it. Furthermore, I understand that a little hard work goes a long way.

I do not know whether I will end up on the Hill, but I do know that my involvement with politics is just beginning. I am grateful for this program allowing me the opportunity to learn that the journey to the Hill is full of learning, hard work and persistence.

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The power of an image

Chelsea.jpg An update from Chelsea, a junior CCPA and marketing major, with a minor in international studies:

As my plane descended into the capital, I could make out the vague glow from the Washington Monument illuminating the intersections of the mall. This image immediately struck me. Feelings of power, achievement, determination, hard labor and motivation overcame me; essentially my picture of America was being framed through the small hole in my airplane window.

My initial image of “the quintessential ideal of America” was not the first picture to be burned into my mind during my time in D.C. My next encounter with powerful images hit me while touring the Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photos display at the Newseum. Images of a man mutilating another man’s body with a flagpole, a bloody baby being carried by a firefighter, a women who had undergone mutilation from an African tribe all captured raw human emotion – and in some instances such evil and human destruction toward our own race – that they nearly brought me to my knees.

My next encounter with powerful images was to be expected, but not to such an extreme degree. Our group decided to take a short venture through the Holocaust Museum, in which impactful images engulf visitors. I had been through the Holocaust Museum in Europe, so I knew the pictures would tug at my emotions, but I at least thought I could reign in my emotions to get through the exhibit.

Yet as I traveled in the footsteps of a survivor through the museum, one print stopped me short. Blown up in black and white was an image of Nazi SS guards leading a group of women (young enough to be my peers) out to the middle of the forest to be shot and buried in a small hole in the dirt. My mind raced to what I would have been feeling and thinking being in their positions, and I had to quickly change pictures because the inhumanity of the image so disturbed my soul.

One of my last departing images of Hilltop came to me on a more uplifting note and to some degree was a foreshadowing. When our group was passing through the street that separated the Supreme Court and the Capitol building, I noticed a group of young professionals off to the side dressed in their pinstriped suites quickly finishing their lunches. This image really speaks to the nature of the city.

As confirmed by many of our speakers, D.C. is a fairly young town where hard work, endless dedication and a honed skill set can propel you to a top position within a fairly short amount of time. Now this isn’t the case in all situations, but seeing these young professionals sitting in front of some of the most powerful institutions of our country really drove home an image wanted by all of our founding fathers – America as a land of opportunity.

D.C. has not only engrained these four images into my head forever, but it has also renewed my sense of American pride. It was refreshing to see how our capital city actually lives up to its name of supplying education and giving its people a wide variety of opportunities. I am positive I will return in the future in hopes of burning a new set of images.

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Giving voice to the Holocaust

An update from Caroline B., a sophomore CCPA major:

holocaust%5B1%5D.jpg As we waited outside the doors of the Holocaust Museum, I slurped down my iced tea and finished my bag of sun chips. I anticipated the emotion that would come out of this tour, but I was completely unaware of the immensity of the impact it would have on me.

(In photo: At the Holocaust Museum.)

Walking through the exhibit, my heart sank deeper and deeper. Pictures of emaciated, helpless people lined the cases. Films showed Nazi rallies exalting hatred. Auditory clips of victims expressing their experiences echoed through a room. All of these aspects of the museum encapsulated me.

Being in the museum I felt as if I was walking through history. I was walking with Gupta, the 26-year-old housewife; Frederich the young boy who cannot understand the source of the despair around him; and Dominic, the father wondering if his family has survived the enemy. I was instantly taken back in time and able to get a better grasp on what actually happened and the extremity of it.

As I walked out of the museum I had a new perspective on the Holocaust. I never really thought it had a direct impact on me, but it really does. It made me realize that appalling things happen every day, but they can be stopped if people take a stand and use their voice.

As we were leaving, Dr. Ben Voth, the CCPA chair, said, “We need a world of speakers.”

I contemplated that thought on the cab ride back to the hotel, and it made me ask myself: “Would this museum be here today if someone had spoken up?”

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Catching fire

Creighton.jpg An update from Creighton, a senior CCPA major:

I arrived to D.C. on the Amtrak train from Baltimore just as the blanket of night had wrapped the city. As I stepped off the train, I made my way past the life-size Obama cutouts to the exit of Union Station. There I would wait for a friend I made during the SMU-in-London program who is now working for the British Embassy.

While I was outside waiting, I noticed a trashcan emitting smoke, and within minutes the smoldering debris ignited into a fire that rose three feet above the garbage can. As I reflect on those flames, I find them rather ironic, because it was the first of many fires that have captured my attention during the “Hilltop on the Hill” program.

DC4.jpgThe fires that I speak of are metaphorical, of course, but they are fires that have been lit in my consciousness. For example, after I met up with my British friend, Max, he began to tell me about his internship at the British Embassy. He explained that earlier that day he was at a meeting in southern Virginia with a senator discussing matters of homeland security and later found himself in the room with the British ambassador to the U.S. Max is only an intern, but he is in the room with many important political figures as they discuss major policy decisions.

(In photo: Creighton and Dan Schill, CCPA assistant professor.)

Something inside me sparked, and I could not wait for the rest of the week, as I began to feel that the Capitol has the fast-paced and influential life I have a longing for.

The next day we traveled to several different offices, but there was one in particular that caught my interest. At Glover Park, Kristine Mitton introduced me to the field of political advocacy advertising. About two years ago, my political fire was ablaze and I thought D.C. was where I wanted to be, but as I learned more about the political process, that fire was snuffed out as I did not want to ascribe to one party or the other – I was more interested in deciding the issues than deciding my side of the aisle.

Mitton rekindled that fire as she explained her job as a person who is not affiliated with either party; instead she works on single issue campaigns rallying the support of both sides of the aisle.

While my interest in political advocacy advertising burned anew, a fire that was already burning became hotter and brighter from listening to Terri Donofrio speak about giving Holocaust survivors the idea of conveying experiences of the voiceless. It dawned on me that this is an area of utmost importance to the honors thesis I am currently working on, and it is also something I have always enjoyed. So, while this fire was underneath the surface, Donofrio exposed it and added a little fuel that made it burn the brightest SMU blue.

Stepping out of Union Station I didn’t realize that fire in a barrel would have such a metaphorical meaning, but I can gladly say there are a number of fires now burning that I won’t be trying to extinguish.

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The lessons of slavery

Amie.jpg An update from Amie, a sophomore CCPA major:

Throughout my visit to Washington, D.C., with Hilltop on the Hill, a group of CCPA and journalism students, many allusions were made regarding the construction of monuments and federal buildings built by slaves. At the inception of the United States, the surrounding area that now encompasses the District of Columbia was slave territory. It was not until 86 years later that slavery was abolished and the District of Columbia was named a free land.

Atop the Capitol building stands a gleaming beacon for prosperity, a statue named “Freedom.” Ironically, this figure symbolizing the opportunities and accomplishments of a nation founded on freedom for all was poured by slaves who were treated as second-class citizens. In addition, slaves also contributed to the construction of the White House. Many presidents who agreed with the institution of slavery lived in the White House while not acknowledging how the building came about.

However, in recent years legislation has been passed commemorating the role that slaves played in constructing the wealth of the U.S. Capitol. A ceremony was held, and Congress dedicated plaques this past August to officially recognize a major contribution that was overlooked by many.

Thankfully, the existence of “Freedom” erected upon the building that represents the people not only represents the existence of slavery, but also the triumph over and lessons of slavery in the United States.

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Internet regulations: How far is too far?

An update from Jessica, a CCPA major:

Hilltop%3ARita%3AJessica.jpg If you’ve ever skyped before, then you know how frustrating it is when your face freezes in the middle of your conversation because of your choppy Internet connection. What if you found out that your connection was bad because your sister was illegally downloading the third season of “Gossip Girl” or your neighbor was researching how to make a homemade bomb? Would you allow your Internet provider to control what pages its customers viewed if you knew that you could prevent future skype conversations from being cut short?

Believe it or not, a term has been coined to describe this very argument: net neutrality.

(In photo: Jessica with Rita Kirk, professor of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs.)

Spending my fall break in Washington, D.C., has made me realize that net neutrality is the “it” topic here on the Hill. Advocates of net neutrality propose that a new law would give the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) more power to regulate Internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, so that they cannot manage the Internet use of their customers.

Since a new law would take way too long to create and pass, advocates suggest that the current Telecommunications Act of 1996 redefine “broadband.” By doing this, the FCC would have more control over its use. Opponents of net neutrality advocate that a new law be passed that they think would protect their customers. Proponents, however, of net neutrality consider their “protection” to really just be unlawful discrimination and control.

Listening to professionals from companies and groups such as Google and Free Press discuss the issue of net neutrality makes it hard for one to ignore the angst in the air. If someone would have mentioned net neutrality, I would have been perplexed, to say the least. It only took me one day of being in D.C., however, for me to realize that this not a trivial matter. Laws are passed all the time without the public knowing anything about the issue.

If I have learned anything from being in D.C., it is the importance of staying updated on current issues and possible legislation, not only because it may affect my life, but also because we as Americans are blessed that we have the ability to fight for what we want and to make a difference.

Because I know many people know nothing about net neutrality, I am doing my part by spreading the word and informing people on the issue. Defended by the First Amendment, we as Americans have the power to change and to create new laws, and this is something that is often overlooked.

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A journalist’s duty

An update from Caroline F, a junior journalism and advertising major:

Caroline%3AJessica.jpg It seems everyone in Washington, D.C., has an opinion about the media. This could be attributed to the fact that one cannot exist without the other; the government needs the media to inform the people, while the media would have too much time on their hands if they were not watching the government for mistakes.

(In photo: Caroline and Jessica at the Library of Congress.)

Each of the speakers who talked to our group has his or her own opinion about whether the media do their job well. This often relates to the media’s ability to be objective.

Joe Lockhart, President Clinton’s press secretary from 1998 to 2000 and founder of Grover Park Group, said, “News is not objective; it never has been.” But he says today’s news organizations portray the news in a way that is in line with their audience’s political point of view, in contrast with only portraying the truth.

Rob Atkinson, founder of Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, recently sat down for an hourlong interview and informational session with a reporter about Radio Frequency Identification products. When the reporter wrote the article, he or she did not write anything from their interview and instead only showed the negative side about the products; the story was unbalanced. Atkinson said, “There are two sides of every story.”

Both of these accounts are applicable to my life as a journalism student. It is a journalist’s responsibility to tell the whole of a story, the good and the bad, the positive and the negative. If a journalist knowingly writes a story that leaves out crucial information, journalism as an institution can receive a negative reputation.

At the Newseum, my thoughts were solidified by a quote next to the Hurricane Katrina news coverage exhibit: “People have a need to know. Journalists have a right to tell … Responsibility includes the duty to be fair. News is history in the making. Journalists provide the first draft of history.”

A journalist’s role in society is crucial, as is the government’s. Both have the responsibility to be fair and reliable. Being in Washington, D.C., has made me realize the world needs more journalists and politicians who are committed to serving the people honestly.

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In MLK’s footsteps

Ashley.jpg An update from Ashley, a CCPA major:

Forty-seven years ago, a man named Martin Luther King Jr. marched up to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with hopes to change a nation that was divided by beliefs and dominated by racism. Last night, I stood on those steps.

As I looked out onto the reflecting pool from King’s platform, I imagined seeing thousands of faces looking to me to represent them in their fight for equality. How could I have represented my people in an influential way under the shadow of the Great Emancipator?

I also envisioned myself in the passionate crowd that flooded the Mall in August of 1963. What would it have felt like to be a member of an oppressed people in the height of the Civil Rights Movement?

It was these thoughts that made me even more grateful for one of the most powerful orators and activists in history. This 17-minute speech served as a major catalyst for racial equality and an end to discrimination in America.

Martin Luther King Jr. made possible the country we know today – a country where men and women are judged by the content of their character, a country that is ultimately united and powerful in the face of adversity, and a country that overcomes differences by electing an African-American president to lead it through times of trouble.

Visiting the sight of the “greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation” was one of the most impactful experiences I have had on American soil, and it has certainly given me a heightened sense of appreciation for the icon of human rights.

Take a few minutes out of your day to listen to the greatest speech in American history …

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