Kenan Scholars Take On the Capitol

Friday, February 9, 2018

It’s not every day that students can walk through the halls of state government and shake hands with policymakers, but on January 26, a group of Kenan Scholars did just that.

Their tour began at the North Carolina State Capitol building rotunda, where they passed a Roman classical-style statue of George Washington, Ionic and Corinthian columns, and a sweeping spiral staircase. Continuing upstairs, the scholars visited the second-floor chambers of the House and Senate, and the third-floor state library with its historical recreation of the state geologist’s office circa 1858.

Next, students made their way over to the North Carolina State Legislative Building, where they met Senator Jay Chaudhuri and Senator Chad Barefoot for an open discussion about working in government, cooperating with legislators with opposing political perspectives, and their recommendations for students interested in policymaking. After the meeting, Senator Barefoot joined the scholars for a casual lunch in a private dining room at the legislative café.

After lunch, the students explored the labyrinth of the building, where voting sessions are carried out. A guide explained legislative processes in detail while students sat in the public gallery overlooking the bright red carpet of the House floor, where rows of desks, stacks of legal books and screens displaying policymakers’ names filled the space.

Next, it was on to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, where the scholars had the opportunity to meet General Counsel Dave Efird, Executive Director of the Office of Science, Technology, and Innovation Dr. John Hardin and Assistant Director David Kaiser. Hardin’s office was established in 1963, and, according to him, was “the first board of its kind…focused on science, technology, and innovation in the whole U.S. at the state level.” He and his colleagues discussed their mission to improve the economic well-being of North Carolinians through science and innovation, their initiatives such as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and the multifaceted responsibility of having impact on an international scale while keeping innovation and funding localized.

While the Kenan Scholars learned much about the workings of state government during their tour, perhaps the most important lesson they learned is one that can be applied to whatever sphere of endeavor they find themselves in. As Senator Barefoot said, “being around this place helps prepare you, but at the end of the day, you also need to be really passionate. If you don’t have that fire in your belly to achieve… it won’t be enough to sustain you. You’ve got to be willing to put yourself out there.”

To learn more about the Kenan Scholars program, please click here.