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Tuesday, August 9, 2022


Boot camp examines what it takes to run for office


Former U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius from Texas will serve as a guest speaker in Friday’s Civic Engagement Boot Camp. | Courtesy of Renee Cross

The Hobby Center for Public Policy is holding its annual Civic Engagement Boot Camp at UH to help students cultivate the skills necessary to enact constructive change by running for political office.

“The CEBC is a series of one-day interactive sessions designed to teach the skills necessary to make a meaningful impact in one’s community,” said Renée Cross, associate director for the HCPP.

The CEBC is free to attend and will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday in McElhinney Hall, room 122. A variety of workshops will teach attendees to understand governmental processes, build collaborations and develop representation on boards, committees and other organizations while using new and traditional media.

“The sessions pack a lot of information into one day and focus on a particular area of civic engagement,” Cross said. “The upcoming boot camp takes the public service theme a little further by examining what it takes to run for elective office.”

Scott Mason, one of the program directors at HCPP, did most of the preparation for the event.

“We get input from our students, interns, public officials, government staff and non-profit leaders about what skills and topic areas are most important,” Mason said. “HCPP then selects the event scope and coordinates a speaker to facilitate the boot camp. We start by determining the topics, then we select the speakers based on who best fits our topics.”

This year, the CEBC will feature former U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius from Texas as a speaker.

“He was introduced to me by former UH Chancellor Bill Hobby, and I thought that his enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge and experience with young people would make him the perfect speaker to lead our event,” Cross said. “Especially when you consider our boot camp this year is centered on running for office. He was a natural fit.”

Sarpalius’ career spans both the government and private sector. He is currently a professional motivational speaker and chief executive officer of Advantage Associates International, a Washington, D.C. consulting firm comprised of former elected officials.

Sarpalius couldn’t read or write until he was 13, according to his bio on the UH website, but he overcame a childhood that included homelessness and polio to enroll at Texas Tech University, where he received a degree in agribusiness.

He later represented Texas’s 13th district, and after leaving office, he was appointed as a top official in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even though the event hasn’t changed since its inception, Cross believes having a speaker with such an inspiring story will help the CEBC continue to grow as it tries to bring in a larger audience.

“Only 15 people attended our first boot camp in 2014 and just 20 attended the next year,” Cross said. “This year is poised to be our largest class yet as we already have 38 people scheduled to attend.”

The HCPP hopes the uptick in attendance will increase the impact the CEBC has on both the student body and the Houston community at large.

“We want to increase our reach into non-profit organizations, particularly with potential topics such as advocacy and lobbying,” Cross said. “But more importantly, we want to jump-start students’ interest in public service and provide them with the skills and confidence to get involved in their community.”

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