By Baylee Pulliam
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
“Any freshmen here?”
U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks waited and few hands went up among the crowd of thirty-or-so suit-clad Anderson University students.
“Okay,” she said, “Me too.”
The freshman congresswoman, R-District 5, met Thursday with faculty and students from honors, the political science department and Center for Public Service, in AU’s Olt Student Center. She recounted her own college days and spoke on the importance of tackling student debt, creating new jobs and engaging young adults in policy discussion.
“This generation of college students is more engaged in politics, and, really, they need to be,” she said.“They need to be educated on all of these problems so they can be prepared.”
For example, they need to know that while they’re paying into Medicare, Medicaid and social security, “those programs are possibly not going to be there when they go to use them,” she said. “We want to preserve those programs for them.”
And of course, there’s student loan debt, an average of $27,253 in 2012. Brooks said that’s an issue they’re working on in the education subcommittee. But in the meantime, the burden is increasingly falling on students’ shoulders, said AU junior Blake Hall.
“Us as students, we’re becoming more self-reliant,” he said. “We’re the ones paying for school.”
And given March’s preliminary U.S. unemployment rate of 7.6 percent — 8.7 in Indiana — some of them might not be able to pay right away. Brooks said that’s one reason she left Ivy Tech Community College, where she’d served as Senior Vice President and general counsel, for Congress.
Seeing adult Ivy Tech students putting families on hold and going into debt to get their education, she wanted to make sure they’d have “good jobs when they came out,” she said.
“Secondly, young students, like you,” she said, referencing the collegiate group gathered at AU Thursday. “That you have those job opportunities; that’s the American Dream. That’s what we’ve promised you: ‘Work hard, and then there will be that future for you.’”
Based on her discussions with employers such as Nestle USA, Brooks suggested students might make themselves more employable by developing their ability to work in teams, their inquisitiveness, love of learning, loyalty, communication skills and punctuality.
She also advised the students to take on internships to boost their resumes, and to “network the heck” out of their families, classmates and professors, because it might lead to a job down the road.
And, despite the debt load many students take on to earn their degrees, Brooks said education is still the key to quality employment.
“If people have a strong education, like you here at AU, it helps them to find their career path, find that job,” she said.
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