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Congress Comes to Campus: House Selection Panel Meets at Parkside | Local News

SOMERS — Monday’s message from higher education leaders to Congress: Invest in infrastructure. Invest in education. Cut the bureaucracy.

In a rare hearing outside of Washington D.C., the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Growth Equity held a hearing at the University of Wisconsin Student Center -Parkside Tuesday afternoon.

After a lunch with students, members of Congress held a question-and-answer session with leaders of educational institutions in the region: WRTP/big step, Gateway Technical College and Parkside. Diego Ruiz, Vice Chairman of SC Johnson, also spoke.

The intent of the hearing, as U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., put it, was “to actually listen,” which he said Congress isn’t doing enough.

Steil, whose district includes Racine and Kenosha counties, said he spent the morning making pancakes with his grandmother on her 98th birthday, and one of his favorite sayings is: “You have two ears and one mouth, use them proportionally”.

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What American workers need

The workforce of the future “will not be overwhelmingly white,” said Lindsay Blumer, president of WRTP/Big Step, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit that aims to “retain and cultivate the workforce of Wisconsin through diversity, opportunity and accessibility”.

“This workforce will not be a direct line from high school through college to the workplace,” Blumer said.

One of the WRTP/Big Step success stories is Charnele Evans, who the Journal Times last year featured as the only woman working on the construction of the historic Horlick Malted Milk complex, which is being converted into housing. Video testimony of Evans’ testimony was shown during Monday’s hearing.

Charnele Evans, an electrician, smiles and poses at the Horlick Historic District complex in May 2021, where she said she was the only woman working at the site.

Dee Holzel

“Three years ago, I had no hope…I had no plan…I didn’t know what to do,” Evans said in the video. She spoke of spending time in prison before finding the opportunities offered by the WRTP/Big Step.

She had no experience using a drill or other power tools until she entered the training program. Without this specific job training, she said she could still be in crisis and without custody of her three children.

As U.S. Representative Jim Himes, D-Conn., chairman of the committee, said in his opening remarks, it’s getting “increasingly difficult for Americans to live the American dream.”

Evans said she was an example of making the American dream come true.

Salaries, jobs, opportunities

“We are facing a new crisis” in the workforce, Blumer said. “Now is the time to make large-scale investments,” she continued, applauding the infrastructure bills that Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed into law, especially the provisions to benefit low-income neighborhoods and other underserved communities.

U.S. Representative Gwen Moore, D-Wis., a Racine native who represents Milwaukee, noted during the hearing that Americans’ wages have not kept up with corporate profits.

From 1990 to 2020, the average annual income in the United States, according to the Social Security Administration, increased by 164.5%. Compare that with the gross domestic product of the United States, which increased by 251.2%. Likewise, inflation has reversed the salary increases that the average American has experienced over the past year; inflation is up about 8% while the average hourly wage rose less than 4.7% in 2021, CNBC reported.

“Workers’ wages are such that it’s difficult for them to take advantage of any work opportunities that might be out there,” Moore said.

Average vacation time taken by workers is less in the United States than in most other developed countries, and low-wage workers find it even harder to get time off that could be used to find training opportunities that could open up new career prospects.

Sherry Lynn Carrion, a Racine native and graduate of Gateway Technical College, also spoke on Monday. She said it would have been impossible for her to start becoming a certified practical nurse during the pandemic if there had not been outside financial help. At the time, she was earning just $13 an hour as a caregiver because jobs in the restaurant industry, where she had worked for 30 years, disappeared during the pandemic.


“Our region needs more graduates,” said UW-Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford. “Over the past two years – pandemic years – UW-Parkside has set records for the number of graduates, and based on current projections, the May 2022 class of UW-Parkside graduates will set another record.”

Ford noted that southeast Wisconsin is the most diverse region in the state. She said more than half of Parkside’s students are first-generation students, nearly a third of her students identify as underrepresented minorities, 38% of her undergraduates looking for a a degree are attending college on a Pell scholarship, and 17% identify as Latino/Latina.

Ford called for more funding from federal Pell Grants, a type of student aid given to undergraduate students with “exceptional financial need.” Just under 100,000 Wisconsin students receive Pell grants, with the average award being around $3,800.

“Without this valuable federal financial aid program, they would not be able to pursue an education,” she said.

Gateway Technical College President and CEO Bryan Albrecht said 70% of Gateway students currently have at least one job. Students who have full-time jobs are half as likely to receive a bachelor’s degree as students who don’t have the added responsibility of a job, Forbes reported last year.

Ford continued, “UW-Parkside is Wisconsin’s only four-year public university recognized as an emerging Hispanic-serving institution.”

In an interview, Parkside Student Body Vice President Crystal Egbo said that while it is good that Parkside has such a diverse population, the university and state-funded institutions in particular need to do more to actually support students from diverse backgrounds once they arrive.

“I also think what should have been mentioned is the urgent need for networking opportunities (for students)… from specifically marginalized communities” and that “there should be more federal funding for student resources “Egbo said, noting that no one on Monday. panel was a current student.

Student body president Alisson Anguiano Salas says if there hadn’t been a single mentor she met by “chance,” she would never have had any networking opportunities during her years in college. first cycle.


Albrecht called on the federal government to provide more mental health services specifically for youth and students. He said it could increase graduation rates and thus reduce the gaps between employers and the educated workers they seek.

According to a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, students with bipolar disorder (which affects about 1% of people) are 70% more likely to drop out of school than those without a diagnosed psychiatric illness.

“An investment in mental health at the college level would be greatly appreciated,” Albrecht said.

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