Three high school students made history for the Lyon College Upward Bound Math-Science (UBMS) program this summer.
Camelia Eheart and Patricia Broemel, of Highland High School, and Tamyia Weatherspoon, of the Academies of West Memphis, became the first Lyon UBMS students to attend the National Student Leadership Congress (NSLC).
Only 196 TRIO pre-college students from across the United States and U.S. territories were accepted into the program. While students typically spend a week in Washington D.C. for the NSLC, this year’s event was a virtual 5-day leadership experience to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Eheart found out she was accepted while riding home from school with her brother.
“It was kind of crazy,” she said, laughing. “I was looking at my phone and was like ‘You are not going to believe this!’”
“You messaged me right after, and I found out I was accepted, too,” said Broemel. “It was exciting! I wanted to see what it was all about.”
Weatherspoon was encouraged to apply by Director of Upward Bound Math-Science Cory Godbolt.
“I had talked to him about the majors I wanted to do and how I want to be a lawyer when I grow up,” she said. “He told me this would be a great opportunity.”
The 32nd annual NLSC challenged students to find innovative solutions to today’s societal issues. Students served as members of congress, discussing their topics in small groups and presenting bills at the end of the week for the entire assembly to vote on.
The students had a week full of team-building activities and met with their Representatives and Senators to share their TRIO stories.
Broemel’s group had to decide if the government should provide broadband internet access to everyone.
“We decided wifi should be accessible to all people,” she said, “because, with the pandemic, more people had to start working and doing stuff online.”
Broemel continued, “We argued that it could help people who don’t have jobs and can’t afford internet to better themselves and that it will help businesses because everyone could order online.”
Eheart’s group had to decide if the government should forgive student loan debt.
“Rather than forgive student loan debt,” she said, “we decided we would give more money to TRIO programs like UBMS.”
Eheart continued, “Our thought process was that if we give more funding to programs that help kids get scholarships then there would be less student loan debt.”
Weatherspoon’s group had to decide if school funding should be based on standardized testing and local taxes.
“I actually got to write the bill, which I was pretty excited about,” she said.
Her group’s stance was that school funding should receive a certain amount of funding per student rather than standardized testing or local taxes.
“We felt this would help because it would give everybody an equal amount of funding and eliminate factors that might put kids out of the race.”
UBMS helped prepare the students for the mock congress experience, they said, because the presentations and bill-writing process were similar to the research papers and end-of-session presentations they have done at the end of UBMS courses.
Godbolt said he is proud of these students and their work.
“They are all very successful and literally made history in their program,” he said. “It felt really good to see their hard work come to a head.”
They were great fits for the NSLC, he said, and took advantage of the offerings.
“I’m very excited to see where their futures go after this,” Godbolt said.
Weatherspoon learned the value of pushing past her fear of rejection and applying for opportunities like NSLC. She also attended Girls’ State, Governor’s School, and the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) program this summer.
“I’ve had a busy summer,” she said, laughing. “My mom always told me to seize every opportunity I can.”
Weatherspoon continued, “I wasn’t going to give up because I had so much going on this year. I wanted to take in everything, and I thank God I was able to.”
Eheart said NSLC was definitely worth it.
“It was a really fun experience because [Broemel and I] are really good friends and we were experiencing it together,” she said. “We became friends with our groups and some of the group leaders who work at other colleges, so it gave us really good connections for our futures.”
Broemel said students should consider attending the NSLC even if they aren’t interested in working in an environment like congress.
“It’s a really good trial for working with other people in a more professional setting.”