A large group of people walk outside in front of a large state capitol building.

‘It’s about how we can collaborate’: Students learn to make their voices heard during annual Capitol Day

Twenty-two students from across Augusta University’s colleges and schools and representing numerous student organizations visited the State Capitol on Feb. 27 to celebrate AU’s Capitol Day. One resounding message was shared by the lawmakers: Be involved with your government.

The annual event, which returned to its pre-COVID-19 pandemic form, was a chance for AU students to learn more about what goes on under the Gold Dome during the 40-day legislative session, as well as an opportunity to meet members of the delegations from Richmond and Columbia counties. The students were nominated by their respective deans and organization advisers as outstanding representatives of Augusta University.

For Lee Saffold, a fourth-year political science major involved with AU’s undergraduate Student Government Association, it was a chance to learn more about what he sees as his calling in life.

“Learning what our representatives and senators do to impact us was very beneficial because I feel that state politics are sometimes overlooked,” he said. “To have the chance to come and see state politics in action was pretty cool, and it solidified my decision to pursue that as a career. I asked a couple of the lawmakers why they chose state politics over federal politics, and they all said because they felt they could have a bigger impact on our citizens at the state level.”

Making an impact is something one person with the delegation knows a lot about – AU President Brooks A. Keel, PhD.

Keel, who will retire at the end of the academic year after 40 years of service to higher education, was honored by the House of Representatives, the Senate and the governor’s office. A resolution was filed in both the House and Senate to honor his service to the state of Georgia from his time at Georgia Southern University and Augusta University, and Gov. Brian Kemp honored Keel with a commendation. Keel, who was joined by First Lady Tammie Schalue, PhD, addressed the House Chamber to thank them for the honor.

Prior to the resolution being read on the floor of the House, Keel addressed the group in a more private setting where he answered questions, including one from third-year cybersecurity major JoVi Douglas.

A man and a woman stand back-to-back with their arms crossed as they pose for a photo.
JoVi Douglas with President Brooks A. Keel, PhD
[Michael Holahan/Augusta University]

“I had the opportunity to be under his leadership at Georgia Southern where he made great impact and had great influence, and one of my questions I had for him was what would his advice be to the next president,” said Douglas. “He said his advice would be to keep the momentum going. I think that’s the message that everyone in their respective places could carry the legacy that he has started, and it reminded me of a quote I love by Arthur Ashe, ‘Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.’”

The last part, “Do what you can,” could be heard as an underlying tone found in the messages from several representatives and senators who took time out of busy schedules to meet with the delegation. Among the messages were numerous calls for the students to remain engaged with their government, to be active with their representatives and senators and to not let this be their last trip to the Capitol because the building is meant to be a place where the people go to have their voices heard.

Those who spoke to the group included Keel, University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue, Chairman of Retirement Sen. Rick Williams, Chairman of the Ethics Committee Sen. Max Burns, Chairman of Natural Resources and the Environment Sen. Lee Anderson, Chairman of Urban Affairs Rep. Brian Prince, Minority Whip Sen. Harold Jones, Reps. Jodi Lott, Karlton Howard and Lynn Gladney, and Sen. Donzella James.

For Douglas, who currently serves as president of the AU Women in Cyber Club and was a founding member, it was clear there are numerous ways for a person to have an impact.

“We all have different roles, different responsibilities, and it’s about how we can collaborate, share information, ask questions, learn to be an influence in our respective fields and areas,” Douglas said. “Having the opportunity to be among different policymakers really just shows the impact that we can have on influencing policy as a community, not only in Augusta, but across Georgia and the rest of the country.”

Along with hearing from many from the delegation from Richmond and Columbia counties, the students also heard from Augusta University’s Government Relations team, including Vice President of Government Relations Margie Miller, Director of State Government Relations Ashton Blackwood and Assistant Director of State Government Relations Luke Ray.

Miller, Ray and Blackwood were able to share some insight into what their team does during the 40-day legislative session, including monitoring many of the close to 4,000 bills that were presented by the two chambers and preparing for Crossover Day on Feb. 29.

“It was an honor to host graduate and undergraduate students to their State Capitol for the day to see and be seen by those who make the decisions and impact the next generation of Georgians,” Miller said. “I am grateful to the members of the legislature for their support of Augusta University and engagement with our students during AU Capitol Day.”

During the afternoon, the students were divided into two smaller groups. One included students from the Medical College of Georgia, the Dental College of Georgia, College of Allied Health Sciences, College of Nursing and other students with plans to enter a health care field, while the second group was made up of students from Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; Hull College of Business; School of Computer and Cyber Sciences; College of Education and Human Development and College of Science and Mathematics.

The students with backgrounds in health care interacted with representatives from the Georgia Dental Association and the Georgia Hospital Association. Sen. Nan Orrock and Reps. Jodi Lott, Brian Prince and Mark Newton also met with the group. Additionally, students met with Paul Brock, MD, dean of MCG’s Northwest Clinical Campus, who was serving the General Assembly as the Doctor of the Day.

The second group met with representatives from the Georgia Association of Realtors, Georgia Farm Bureau, the Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Deal, Riley and Associates, as well as Reps. Matthew Gambill, governor’s floor leader, and Matt Dubnik, Education Appropriations chair.

 “We are thankful for our internal teams, external partners and our students for making this a successful Capitol Day,” said Russell Keen, EdD, executive vice president for External Relations and chief of staff to the president. “This has been a wonderful opportunity to highlight the importance of the work that goes on under the Gold Dome here in Georgia. We are grateful for the unwavering support and for the dedication of our legislators, whose support has been invaluable and instrumental in facilitating impactful and positive changes at Augusta University.”

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Written by
Milledge Austin

Milledge Austin is a senior communications and marketing strategist for Communications and Marketing at Augusta University. Contact him to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at miaustin@augusta.edu.

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man with glasses standing in front of blue background Written by Milledge Austin

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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