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Students get insider's look at nation's capital

April 21, 2006

KALAMAZOO--Two Western Michigan University students, a student at Kalamazoo Valley Community College taking classes at WMU and a WMU faculty member got an insider's look at how the federal government operates, thanks to a WMU alumna who serves as a high-ranking drug control official.

Members of the delegation were the guests of Mary Ann Solberg, White House deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The foursome visited Solberg on March 21 in Washington, D.C.

The visit was part of a three-day trip sponsored by the WMU College of Health and Human Services and came about after Solberg visited the college last fall and invited a WMU contingent to come to the nation's capital to see her.

Timothy Gottwald of Kalamazoo, a senior majoring in social work; Amy Allen of Muskegon, Mich., a senior majoring in sociology; and Michael Holland of Kalamazoo, a member of a joint program offered through WMU and KVCC, made the trip with Dr. Kieran Fogarty, associate professor in WMU's Interdisciplinary Health Studies Doctoral Program.

Fogarty and the students visited U.S. Rep. Fred Upton's office and spent time with Solberg, who took the group on a tour of the West Wing and the Oval Office and to lunch at the White House. Solberg also brought them to her National Drug Control Policy office where they met with her key staff and advisors.

"Ms. Solberg was very generous with her time," Fogarty says. "The trip gave students an awareness that Washington, D.C., contains real advocates like her, who are dealing with key issues of the day. The college's hope was that the students would be more inspired than impressed and that they would take back home her powerful message to 'serve your communities.'"

Solberg, who was named the White House deputy director in 2002, brought to her job deep experience as a leader in community-based anti-drug coalitions. Prior to her appointment, she served in Michigan as the executive director of both the Troy Community Coalition for the Prevention of Drug and Alcohol Abuse and the Coalition of Healthy Communities.

Solberg also has served as a member of numerous other advisory, civic and community organizations, including the board of directors of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America; the advisory committee to develop a national prevention system at the National Center for Substance Abuse Prevention; and the advisory committee for the National Ad Council's Community Anti-Drug Campaign. In 1998 she was named to the President's Commission on Drug-Free Communities and was elected co-chairperson.

Students came away with a deeper understanding of how government works and national drug control policy.

"She portrayed more knowledge and passion about drug control policy than I had ever imagined one person could know about any subject," says Allen.

Solberg explained that most problems communities face are local, and that solutions to these problems are unique to their locations. She encouraged the students to get involved in grassroots efforts to change community norms for the better.

"I plan to take the knowledge I have gained from her and apply it in my hometown," Allen says. Allen adds that Solberg "has given me hope that I can make a difference in my community through prevention, treatment and disruption."

Fogarty invited Solberg to come back to WMU when her schedule permits. The College of Health and Human Services hopes to send more students to Washington to see first hand how U.S. government agencies and offices operate.

"I want to thank Western Michigan University and the College of Health and Human Services for this opportunity," Gottwald says. "Washington D.C. is much more than monuments and cherry blossoms. It is a place that enables dreams to come true."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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