Students had the opportunity to connect with two former members of Congress who visited Suffolk University to discuss current issues and share their experiences as political leaders.

Through the Congress to Campus program, Nicholas Lampson, a Democrat who represented the Texas 9th Congressional District from 1997 to 2005, and Thomas Petri, a Republican who represented the Wisconsin 6th Congressional District from 1979 to 2015, engaged with students to inspire greater civic participation through public service or by doing something as simple as voting.

Student asks question of congressmenDuring their two-day visit, Lampson and Petri met with students and faculty over breakfast and lunch. They also spoke at an open forum for students and attended Government classes, where they discussed the inner workings of Congress, how Congress has changed over time, and why it has now become more polarized.

Importance of public service

“Both speakers made it clear to students why it’s important to go into public service and run for public office,” said Rachael Cobb, chair of the Government Department.

Lampson is known for establishing the first-ever Congressional Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus, which now includes more than 120 members and is credited with nationalizing the successful AMBER Alert system.

Petri, who was a member of the Republican Main Street Partnership and the moderate Republican conference called “The Tuesday Group,” supports stem-cell research while generally opposing abortion.

Focus on issues

One student asked Lampson what it was like to be an anti-gun control Democrat.

“The Congressman answered the question by discussing the hunting culture in Texas,” said Cobb. “His constituents strongly support protecting the right to hunt.”

During an open forum moderated by Robert Laffey of the Government Department, Petri and Lampson discussed issues including immigration, taxation, and polarization in government.

“Listening to two conservative viewpoints was interesting because it’s not something you see portrayed much in the media,” said senior Garrett Maushart, a government major. “It was good to hear each congressman talk about their views and first-hand experience.”

Clara Sandrin, a junior government major, was impressed with the inspiring message that Lampson and Petri offered.

“I felt they were very optimistic about what we as students can do in the future,” said Sandrin. “They encouraged us to fix the problems that we see, especially when they were talking about polarization in government.”

Sandrin, who aims to become a political campaign manager, said the former congressmen’s visit gives a real-life perspective to what is learned in the classroom. “It provides us with a tangible example to learn from and work with,” she said.

“I walked away with an appreciation of how human policy makers are and how open they were while interacting with us,” said senior Gunnar Vincens.

The congressmen’s visit was sponsored by Suffolk’s Government Department and the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress.