Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Alum-Legislators have Dialogue with UNC Charlotte Family

(Pictured in the photo, left to right: Sen. Bob Rucho, Rep. Fred Steen, Rep. Tricia Cotham, Alumni Association President David Causey, Rep. Jason Saine.)

In a seemingly endless political-election season, it may be easy for some of us to forget that legislators are real people – people with whom we really do have shared personal interests. Such was the realization for this writer last week when UNC Charlotte’s Alumni Affairs department, in collaboration with Constituent Relations, hosted a “dialogue” with four North Carolina legislators who also are alumni.

On March 1, more than 100 alumni, students and staff gathered at Harris Alumni Center at Johnson Glen to talk with North Carolina General Assembly members Sen. Bob Rucho (District 39, Mecklenburg) and Reps. Tricia Cotham (District 100, Mecklenburg), Jason Saine (District 97, Lincoln) and Fred Steen (District 76, Rowan).

UNC Charlotte’s other alumni in the General Assembly include Reps. Martha Alexander (District 106, Mecklenburg), Bill Brawley (District 103, Mecklenburg) and Mike Hager (District 112, Rutherford).

The evening was billed as a civil conversation, not an occasion for partisan debate; the elected officials and attendees fulfilled that goal, speaking on subjects ranging from what the legislators cherish from their days on campus, how their UNC Charlotte experience formed their outlook on service and politics, the practical value of social media, their interest in civic life and the value of college students getting involved in community activities, to the value of 49ers football and much more.

Rep. Saine, who was active as a College Republican in the 1990s, fondly remembered dialing in to WBT radio to debate College Democrats. He recalled and highly recommends working jobs on campus as a way for students to understand the University. He’s now a committed user of social media, favoring real-time feedback from constituents when he is voting on bills. But he also said that coming to town hall meetings and other such events and interacting directly – respectfully – is citizens’ responsibility.

Rep. Cotham recalled how her earliest exposure to history and political science class helped bring her political interest alive. Also an avid social media user, she encourages students to seize every opportunity to engage on campus and beyond and to step beyond their comfort zone – as she did with a three-week student-study in Cuba.

Sen. Rucho, who obtained his MBA at UNC Charlotte after establishing a successful dental practice, also encouraged students to approach civic engagement as their responsibility. He was complimentary of the Belk College of Business and declared UNC Charlotte’s “widgets, such as good or better than other universities’ widgets.” Rucho said the UNC system was North Carolina's "crown jewel."

Rep. Steen got his degree as an adult working fulltime in the 1980s. He remembered contract law as his toughest course – but also the most useful in his legislative and business career. He encouraged students to “stretch,” by pursuing civic opportunities.

Saine said he considers UNC Charlotte a family – 15,000 of the University’s 23,500 come from the greater Charlotte region and more than 62,300 of its 95,000 alums still reside here. Last week’s event was like a family reunion in many ways – cordial, fun and a time to get to know each other. Here’s looking forward to the next such reunion.

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