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Summer 2011, Vol. 14, No. 3
Cover Article
 

 

Inside Missouri State CapitolCapitol Connections

 

Truman graduates can be found everywhere
and the Missouri State Capitol is no exception.


Among the many Truman alumni who have chosen to play an active role in politics are four graduates profiled in this article whose career paths have crossed in the distinctive domed building that sits atop the river bluff in Jefferson City, Mo. Eric Schmitt (’97) is the lone Truman graduate currently serving in the Missouri Senate, and Ed Schieffer (’71), Mike Colona (’91) and Scott Sifton (’96) are all members of the Missouri House of Representatives. In addition, Truman State University is proud to have two former students who attended the University—John Cauthorn and Diane Franklin—also serving as state representatives.

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One of the youngest people ever to serve in the Missouri Senate, Eric Schmitt was not planning on pursuing a political career when he attended Truman in the 1990s. A St. Louis County native, Schmitt came to the Truman campus for a football recruiting visit during his senior year at De Smet Jesuit High School and immediately liked the school.

Eric Schmitt
Sen. Eric Schmitt

As a student on campus, Schmitt played football for one year and baseball for two years and participated in a number of campus organizations. “I learned about Habitat for Humanity when I was in college and about the good work they do in assisting folks who need a home,” says Schmitt, who became involved with a local chapter that was forming in Kirksville, and then went on to help found a campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity. “Founding and leading the chapter while I was at Truman was one of the most rewarding things that I got a chance to be a part of,” says Schmitt.

Looking back on his college days, Schmitt clearly recalls one of the first classes he had as an undergraduate was American National Government taught by Candy Young. Randy Hagarty also stands out among the many great professors he remembers having at Truman. “What I liked about college was that you obviously got to pick more of your own classes,” says Schmitt. “Because I had the ability to select classes with great teachers who taught instead of the TAs who teach at some of the larger institutions, I was able to learn from that interactive process.”

Schmitt believes that a student’s college experience is defined in large part by the long-term friendships that are forged with fellow students. One relationship in particular has had a huge impact on his life. While attending Truman, he met a fellow student named Jaime Forrester (’97, ’98) whom he began dating. Soon after graduation, he proposed to her during Homecoming at the campus location where they first met. They are married and live in Glendale (St. Louis County) where they are raising their three children: Stephen (6), Sophia (3) and Olivia (1).

After graduating cum laude from Truman in 1997 with a bachelor of arts degree in political science, Schmitt received a scholarship to attend law school at St. Louis University where he served as editor of the Law Review. “I think a lot of the skills and the intellectual curiosity that I developed in college carried over into law school,” says Schmitt, who is proud to be the first member of his family to obtain a law degree. He joined the law firm of Lathrop and Gage where he became a partner. Later on in his career, he was presented with an opportunity to become involved in politics.  “After consulting with my wife, I made the decision to do it, and it’s been great,” says Schmitt, who was elected to the Senate in 2008. He represents the 15th Senate District in St. Louis County.

Throughout his career, Schmitt has aspired to live up to his high school’s motto: To be a “Man for Others.” “Truman gave me an opportunity to do a lot of different things, and I had an opportunity to make my corner of the world a little better place…and I have tried to continue that in my professional life and my new life in public service,” says Schmitt. While serving as chairman of the Young Lawyers Section of the Missouri Bar, he helped raise money for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and created a special needs advocacy task force that helped families find out about services available to them. He has also continued his involvement with Habitat for Humanity through activities such as organizing Habitat for Humanity work days in the legal community.

In the Legislature, Schmitt has risen through the ranks quickly. Since being elected three years ago, he has been named the chairman of the important Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee and was recently elected by his colleagues to Senate Leadership as Majority Caucus Secretary. Schmitt has a reputation for being a hardworking legislator who brings people together. He has focused his efforts on job creation and economic development legislation and being an advocate for individuals with disabilities and their families.

One of his proudest moments so far in the Senate was last year when he helped lead the effort on the autism insurance reform bill that was signed into law. Schmitt’s oldest child, Stephen, is on the autism spectrum, so Schmitt understands how challenging it can be to deal with those types of issues every day. “I’m grateful to have an opportunity to be an advocate for these children and families and try and bring about some real change so these kids have a chance to reach their full potential,” says Schmitt.

Eric Schmitt and Adam Crews 
Adam Crews (on right), a Truman student, got an inside look at state government when he interned in Sen. Eric Schmitt’s office.

Schmitt also enjoys helping young people, including students attending his alma mater, who are interested in learning more about state government and the political process. Each year, Truman juniors and seniors have an opportunity to participate in the Missouri Government Internship Program which allows students to intern with a legislator, public official or state agency, and this past spring, Adam Crews got an inside look at state government when he interned in Schmitt’s office for a semester. “Adam has helped me tremendously this year, and I am proud to say he has upheld Truman’s reputation for excellence,” says Schmitt.

“The experiences and the freedom that I had in college to be involved in a whole host of different organizations and be part of an academic environment that challenged me was something I will never forget. That college experience also taught me how to balance and juggle different responsibilities. That ability to balance responsibilities and prioritize is even more critical at this stage in my life. Whether it is my legal career, my life as a senator, being a good husband and father, it is important to maintain the proper perspective and to understand and appreciate what’s really important in life,” says Schmitt.

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Ed Schieffer 
Rep. Ed Schieffer

Ed Schieffer has been representing Lincoln County in the Missouri House of Representatives since 2006, but his experience talking in front of people goes back to when he was eight years old and started giving 4-H demonstrations. Born and raised on a farm near Moscow Mills, Mo., Schieffer arrived on the Truman campus in the 1960s when the school was known as Northeast Missouri State Teachers College, and he is proud to be the first person in his immediate family to earn a college degree.

For three of the four years Schieffer spent at the University, he was on the speech and debate team, and he made it to the top 10 finals in competitions sponsored by Pi Kappa Delta, an international forensics honor society. He achieved his highest level of success in the area of oral interpretation of literature and firmly believes the experience he gained in public speaking has helped in what he is now doing in Jefferson City.

While a student on campus, Schieffer founded the collegiate 4-H Club, and his involvement with 4-H led to an opportunity that was paramount to his political interests. During the summer of 1970, Schieffer was one of four students selected by the National 4-H Foundation to work in Washington, D.C., and it was his job to help college students participating in a program called Citizenship Short Course by setting up appointments with their congressmen and senators. The job provided an opportunity to meet a number of high-ranking politicians, and Schieffer even had breakfast with President Richard Nixon and the First Family. “I got to meet a lot of interesting people and that summer experience was probably the main impetus to what I’m doing now,” says Schieffer.

At that time, the Vietnam War was going on, and when Schieffer was in Washington, he witnessed a large protest. He also remembers when the students held a sit-down demonstration on campus. “When you look at what’s going on in the world today, I’m proud that our country and our political process allow us to do that,” says Schieffer. “Our American democracy is something we need to cherish.”

Schieffer graduated from the University in 1971 with a bachelor of science degree in secondary education and earned a master’s of science degree in secondary education from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. He began a teaching career that started at a small rural school and went on to encompass teaching experiences at intercity and suburban schools as well as college-prep type programs and continuing education programs. “Each experience has helped me see the whole education spectrum,” says Schieffer. “So as we are voting on some of these issues, such as whether we should have charter schools or voucher systems, I have a little different background compared to someone who has had experience with just one school system.”

Throughout his career, Schieffer has continued to support organizations including 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) because he feels it is important for young people to have the same type of opportunities he had. Locally, he has helped sponsor several scholarships to help encourage young people in his community pursue a college education, and when he was teaching, he especially enjoyed having an opportunity to share his passion for speech and debate. “I’m proud that many of the students I coached in competitive speech have done very well and have gone on to be very successful professionally,” says Schieffer. This summer, Kyle Olmstead, a Truman student is interning in Schieffer’s office.

In Schieffer’s view, the key to success in today’s changing world is to be diverse in one’s thinking and to have the ability to think and communicate with other people. One of the most important lessons Schieffer learned from Richard Huhn, his debate coach, was to think on more than one level. “He pushed us to think…to think on our feet, to think while we were driving in the car, to think wherever we are, and to not just give in to the first inclination or the first idea that pops into our mind, but to really think,” says Schieffer.

While Schieffer says he knew he wanted to be involved in the political process in some shape or form, he didn’t realize just how much his liberal arts education would benefit him. “Sometimes when you’re young and taking World Lit or World Civilization, you think why in the world are they making me take these classes…but there’s a reason for those courses,” says Schieffer, who is proud of the fact that he has been re-elected three times. He encourages young people to take what he calls “thinking” courses and to learn both inter- and intra-personal communication skills.

“A computer can do a lot, but we still need the human brain to do the thinking…we have to be able to take information and form it in a communicative message that we can send out to other people or type into our computer,” says Schieffer. “My five-year-old grandson already knows how to play video games, but I also want him to have thinking skills and be able to communicate with people.”

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JoEllen Flanagan and Rep. Mike Colona 
Truman student JoEllen Flanagan had an opportunity to work alongside Rep. Mike Colona through a program at Truman that provides semester-long internships in the Capitol.

During Mike Colona’s senior year at Truman, he faced a dilemma: should he go into the practice of law and politics or pursue a teaching career? Bill Murray, a professor, who was also the advisor for Colona’s fraternity, helped him solve the problem. “He said ‘did it ever dawn on you that a J.D. is a terminal degree, and you can actually do both? You can get your terminal degree as a lawyer and teach,’ and that’s what I ended up doing,” says Colona. Today, Colona is an attorney with The Stokely Group and a member of the Missouri House of Representatives. He represents part of St. Louis City (District 67) and serves as the Minority Whip.

Born in St. Louis and raised in Jefferson County, Colona came to Truman on a full ride scholarship. “Not only was Truman affordable, but it was a great school,” says Colona. “My favorite courses were any class with Dr. Candy Young, and I got a kick out of Dr. Vorkink as well as Clay Dawson over in music and Bill Murray in fine arts.” A member of Truman’s Class of 1991, Colona earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science with a minor in music.

When he first arrived in Kirksville, Colona remembers how his fellow students were complaining about the lack of things to do. “I learned a long time ago your experience is what you make of it, so you go out, you join a fraternity, you do academic things, you make the most of where you are, and that’s what I did,” says Colona, who also served as a residence hall advisor for three years in Missouri Hall. “It was just a great experience.”

“After I left Kirksville, I went down to St. Louis University to go to law school with the idea of never practicing law,” says Colona. “I was planning on going into politics, but then I came out my first year of law school, and the late ’80s and early ’90s was probably not the best time for a gay politician to run for office, so I actually practiced law by accident,” says Colona. “Your life is what you make of it; you either grab the bull by the horns and run with it or you can sit back and whine…and sitting back and whining is no fun.”

One of Colona’s most rewarding experiences has been teaching. He taught at Maryville University before serving as an adjunct professor for the University of Missouri-St. Louis for more than a decade. “I taught criminal justice, and nowadays, I’ll have lawyers, police officers and fellow attorneys who were in my class say ‘we learned a lot, it inspired us, and it kept us in the program,’” says Colona. “And when you know you played a part in shaping that person’s future in a positive way, that’s very refreshing, and it keeps you going.”

In addition to teaching, Colona has found that serving as a representative can also be fulfilling. “We recently passed the very first bill sponsored by me where we renamed a portion of a highway in my district after a police officer who died,” says Colona. “That’s a great thing that you can do for a family who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

This spring, Colona also had an opportunity to mentor JoEllen Flanagan, a Truman student participating in the Missouri Government Internship Program, who interned in Colona’s office in Jefferson City for a semester. “Working with JoEllen was fantastic,” says Colona. “When I walked into a hearing and it was like, ‘what do I need to know,’ she would tell me—it was great to work with her.”

Based on his experiences, Colona says the best advice he can give to students is to encourage them to find their passion and get involved. “Don’t be afraid to embrace whatever that is, even if it doesn’t fit into your overall game plan, because when you find that spark or that issue or that thing that clicks, you’ve got to take it and run with it because that’s what’s going to make you happy,” says Colona.

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Scott Sifton 
Rep. Scott Sifton

Scott Sifton grew up in Kansas City Northland and found that his Truman experience provided a good training ground for his future career as both a lawyer and a politician. In November 2010, he was elected to his first two-year term in the Missouri House of Representatives, and he currently represents the 96th District, located in South St. Louis County.

Sifton graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in communications from Truman in 1996. After leaving Kirksville, he attended law school at the University of Michigan and spent his summers working as a law clerk for then Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon. Sifton obtained his juris doctorate then joined Husch Blackwell’s St. Louis commercial litigation department where he made partner in 2006.

Looking back to the time he spent in Kirksville, Sifton says he can see how much of an impact his Truman experience has had on his life. Most importantly, after finishing law school, he met Stacey George, a member of the Class of 2000, who later became his wife. “Stacey and I likely would not have crossed paths were it not for Truman,” says Sifton, who became a proud father when their son, Stephen, was born in 2009.

Many of the courses Sifton took as an undergraduate at Truman continue to influence him to this day, including Randy Hagerty’s government budgeting and public policy classes. “Dr. Hagerty always provided pragmatism, candor and enthusiasm in his classes,” says Sifton. “He is an outstanding lecturer with a real love of his subject matter.”

As a student on the Truman campus, Sifton was involved with a number of campus organizations, and one in particular provided ample opportunity to hone some valuable skills that have benefitted him throughout his professional career. “My primary involvement at Truman was through Student Senate where I authored a five-year university planning document,” says Sifton, who later served as president of Student Senate. “Seeing JINS [Junior Interdisciplinary Seminar program] start as an idea in the student Vision document and go on to become a reality was my best experience on campus. Working with the Undergraduate Council and Faculty Senate to rewrite the core curriculum and adopt some innovative concepts was a wonderful experience.”

“The Lakeside Review skit competition my senior year was the most fun I had in college,” says Sifton. “We did ‘Lake Side Story,’ a spoof of ‘West Side Story,’ complete with a ’50s-style grease gang, a somewhat more contemporary cadre and one very talented martial arts expert.”

Sifton joined the ranks of students who leave some type of legacy on campus when he and some friends started the campus chapter of the Beta Theta Pi social fraternity. “The men and women on Student Senate, my fraternity brothers and my roommates made campus life enjoyable,” says Sifton, who also credits Kathy Rieck, Elsie Gaber, and the late Vonnie Nichols for helping guide him through his years at Truman.

Voters in the Affton School District elected Sifton to the school board in 2001, 2004 and 2007, and he served as board president from 2007 to 2009. He is proud that over a seven-year period, the percentage of Affton High School students demonstrating proficiency in communication arts increased by 50 percent while the proficiency percentage in math doubled. “We completed additions to three buildings, air-conditioned the schools and raised teacher salaries to the county median, all while decreasing the district’s debt,” says Sifton.

“My Truman experience taught me how to work with people of differing perspectives to get things done,” says Sifton. And now that he’s a member of the House of Representatives, Sifton plans to use those same collaborative and leadership skills to make the most of this new opportunity that has been placed before him.

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Music in the Rotunda

Truman State University's Brass ChoirThe music of Truman State University’s Brass Choir filled the statehouse in Jefferson City, Mo., on March 29, 2011. The student group performed for the legislators as part of the Truman Showcase and Kirksville Day at the Capitol. Under the direction of Gregory Jones, professor of music, the ensemble showcased their talents by playing a variety of classical and jazz works. A smaller brass ensemble also provided entertainment for a reception hosted by Truman’s Mid Missouri Alumni Chapter on March 28 in the Capitol Plaza Hotel.

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Students Present Research in the Capitol

A contingent of Truman students traveled to Jefferson City, Mo., on March 29, 2011, to participate in the Truman Showcase and Kirksville Day at the Capitol. Several students presented posters on research projects ranging from a policy analysis of newborn hearing screening standards in rural and urban areas of Missouri, to a study that created a model for predicting nationally aggregated airfare, to an agriculture practicum project for producing and marketing cheese. The annual event provides an opportunity for lawmakers in the Capitol to visit with some of Truman’s top students and see a sample of the type of research students are working on at the University.

Beth Guckes 
Truman student Beth Guckes

Among the student research poster displays was one that was especially fitting for the state Capitol. The project, presented by student Beth Guckes, focused on the famous murals painted by Thomas Hart Benton found in the Capitol. With Julia DeLancey, professor of art, serving as faculty mentor, Guckes, and fellow students Nick Corich, Elizabeth Esry, Natalie Hall, Michelle Krewet, Cecilia Muruato, Hannah Schnucker and Claire Ungashick, conducted an elaborate service-learning project as part of an art history course that was designed to make the murals more accessible to a wide range of audiences. Working in consultation with the Missouri State Museum and the Department of Natural Resources, the students developed, researched, wrote, designed and implemented a website providing detailed information about the murals.

The website on the murals, which is hosted by the University, is available at http://benton.truman.edu and includes vivid photographs, detailed histories of the paintings and artist as well as information on how to arrange in-person visits to the Missouri Capitol. View information on all the research projects presented in the Capitol at http://alumni.truman.edu/trumanreview/2011/Summer/PosterDisplays.asp.

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Missouri Government Internship Program

Zach Wyatt and Casey Davis 
Truman student Casey Davis (on right) served as an intern for Missouri State Rep. Zachary Wyatt (on left) for the spring 2011 semester.
 
Joanna Russell and Brian Munzlinger
Joanna Russell, one of the Truman students who participated in the Missouri Government Internship Program this past spring, spent the semester living in Jefferson City and working in the office of Missouri State Sen. Brian Munzlinger.

Each year during the spring, Truman State University offers students a unique opportunity to intern at the Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo., through the Missouri Government Internship Program. Interns receive a $2,500 stipend to live and work in Jefferson City for a semester and can receive up to 15 hours of credit. This past spring, 16 Truman students participated in the program and interned with a legislator, public official or state agency. These internships are just one of the many ways Truman provides a link between the classroom and the world beyond campus.

Thanks to the generous support of alumni who participated in the Missouri Government Internship Program while attending Truman, an endowment was established in 2006 to provide a permanent source of revenue to support and expand the internship program. The Missouri Government Internship Fund helps defray the cost of living and work in in Jefferson City, Mo., for a semester. If you would like to find out how you can support the Missouri Government Internship Program at Truman, contact the Office of Advancement, (800) 452-6678 or (660) 785-4133 or visit giving.truman.edu.



 

Truman Review magazine
Published by Office of Advancement, Truman State University,  McClain Hall 205, 100 E. Normal Ave., Kirksville, Missouri 63501; www.truman.edu.
Copyright © Truman State University 2011.