Thursday, February 27, 2014

Up Close and Personal with a State Lawmaker

By Hope Steffensen

I recently participated in something new at the UT Dallas. In my Honors State and Local Government, we held the inaugural session of “Meet Your Lawmakers,” a class session completely dedicated to being up close and personal with the people crafting the legislation in the political culture we are studying.

Our guest was Texas State Representative Van Taylor. He has served two terms as a state representative for Plano, and he is currently running unopposed for State Senate Seat 8. UT Dallas is well within District 8, so we had a wonderful opportunity to talk to our future state senator.

I was curious about how the session would go. Rep. Taylor is a Tea Party favorite, and he has a reputation for being difficult and “stand-offish” in congressional sessions. However, I doubted he would come across as disagreeable in a presentation to college students, so I literally had no idea what to expect.

When Rep. Taylor began to talk to us, I was not the only one who was somewhat surprised. As one of my classmates put it later, “Representative Taylor was quite soft-spoken.” He gave us a brief three minute introduction about himself, outlining his overseas service in the Marines, his Harvard Business Degrees, and his legislative success in making it easier for overseas military members to vote. Then, he opened up the floor for the rest of the class for an extended question and answer session.

It was definitely a treat. My professor, Dr. Dow, asserted later that it isn’t often that politicians allow so much freedom of discussion. They don’t want to risk being “caught off guard” by a random question.
I especially appreciated his candor in answering my question. I inquired about the importance of personal interaction between legislators. I was curious how a man with a reputation for not being a “team player” would answer that. How he answered, was interesting and insightful to the entire class, my professor included.

He responded with a theory of governance referred to as the “Independence Mandate Theory of Representation.” In this theory, voters select a person based on their ideology. The political actor acts independently, believing his constituents tacitly support it since they elected him. And if constituents don’t support his legislative action, as Rep. Taylor put it, “Vote me out.” For Rep. Taylor, the most important personal interaction is with the constituents and representing them in the Texas Legislature.

It was a breath of fresh air in the realm of politics to engage in such candid conversation with a politician. Even though Rep. Taylor has ideals that are largely divergent from the more liberal, traditional college student, the conversation we had with him as a class was marked with both civility and honesty. That’s definitely unique in modern political conversation.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Do’s and Don’ts of a Successful Freshman Year

By Josh Baltzell, EPPS Freshman

One might ask coming into their first year of college how they are going to manage their time? Incoming freshman might even wonder how to balance classes and extracurricular activates. As a collegiate athlete and a once undeclared major I can offer a few bits of information to the incoming class of freshman.

First off, if you are coming into college as an undeclared major don’t stress about it too much! My best piece of advice is focus on your core classes. Regardless of what major you decide on and what school within UT Dallas you are in, everyone has the same 42 hours of core classes. A freshman in college can NOT go wrong trying to finish these classes first.

Second, if you, like me, are going to participate in extracurricular activities, find out ahead of time when they are going to meet when you are planning your schedule. For example, I have golf workouts in the early mornings; therefore I cannot take 8 a.m. classes. However, since I am already up, it is very easy for me make it to an 8:30 or 9 a.m. class. 

When you are signing up for classes realistically evaluate yourself. Are you really a morning person or do you just wish they you were? If you are bad at time management and tend to procrastinate a lot, don’t take an online class. Make sure to plan your schedule according to your personality.

Lastly, learn a valuable real life skill your freshman year --- good organizational skills. As a golfer for the UT Dallas team, I know that I am going to have extra commitments. Frequently, this semester I found myself having to miss classes because I was away at a golf tournament or was going to need time to practice. Whatever activity you choose to partake in, make sure you keep a list of the things you need to accomplish that week. Have an outline of your assignments, meetings, practices, and tests. You’ll find yourself less stressed because you know what the week has in store. 

Also, in my case, having to travel for golf provided me with a way to get to know my professors outside the classroom setting. For example, I had to talk to my CRIM professor about missing class on multiple occasions because attendance was required. When explaining that it was for golf, he learned my name and was later able to remember me specifically and ask me about the golf team.

College is a completely different experience from high school. As long as you are able to come in with an open mind of what you want to accomplish and are able to set realistic goals for yourself, you should be able to make the most of your next four years at the university