- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 24, 2005

Cendahl Cornellio Smeland may be a student now, but she hopes to one day become an international leader.

An incoming freshman at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., Miss Smeland, 18, originally from San Francisco, took part earlier this month in the Students to Leaders program, sponsored by the National Italian American Foundation in Northwest.

“I think I want to work with United Nations and European Union relations,” Miss Smeland says. “I’ve always wanted to travel. That’s one of my passions.”

Miss Smeland is one of the 30 Italian-American students selected to participate in the leadership program. The educational workshops exposed Italian-American high school juniors and seniors to government and public policy in the District from July 16 to 19.

The mentoring workshops help students develop leadership skills and inform them about career choices, says Dr. A. Kenneth Ciongoli, chairman of the NIAF, a nonprofit association dedicated to preserving the heritage of Italian-Americans.

Learning about what current leaders have accomplished raises the students’ expectations of their own achievements, he says.

“America is run by leaders who make an impact culturally, politically and academically,” Dr. Ciongoli says. “Italian-Americans have to understand that excellence is necessary. They have to meet people who are excellent and understand how the country is run.”

Sam Donaldson, political correspondent at ABC News, and Tony Podesta, chairman of PodestaMattoon, a government relations firm in Northwest, are among the leaders the students met. The group also visited with Alberto Galluccio, first counselor of the Embassy of Italy, in Northwest. They also took part in a team-building ropes course and toured the Pentagon.

Career advice isn’t predicated on ethnic association, says Andy Glass, columnist for the Hill newspaper. Although Mr. Glass, one of the program’s speakers, doesn’t have any Italian ancestors, he says he is “Italian by marriage.”

“I’m eager to help young people find their way, to get their bearings on Washington and any career orientation,” Mr. Glass says. “I want to impart that even now with all the segmentation, Washington is an exciting place to have a career.”

Although many of the students on the trip may want to be politicians, Mr. Glass says, he hopes some of them will want to become journalists. He says the best advice for future D.C. reporters is to work for a good newspaper, even outside the District.

Then, when they are assigned something like a “third-rate burglary” at the Watergate Hotel in Northwest, they will be ready for the task, he says.

Integrity, straightforwardness, courage, conviction and taking other people more seriously than oneself are leadership qualities that all students should learn, says Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., New Jersey Democrat. He was one of the program’s speakers and is a co-chairman of the Italian-American congressional delegation.

“When you look at people, take them for what they are,” Mr. Pascrell says. “Judge them for their character, instead of how fancy the hat is or the tie is that the individual is wearing.”

Mr. Pascrell was a teacher for 12 years before working on Capitol Hill, and says he loves to speak with students. He wants the students to be proud of the positive contributions made by Italian-Americans in this country.

Tomorrow, Mr. Pascrell, along with other members of Congress, plans to honor Italian-American painter Constantino Brumidi in the Capitol Rotunda. The artist created frescoes for the U.S. Capitol building, including “The Apotheosis of George Washington,” which covers the canopy of the Capitol dome.

In 1852, Brumidi came to the United States as a political refugee. The Capitol event marks the bicentennial of his birth.

“I’m so proud to be an American, proud to be an Italian-American,” Mr. Pascrell says. “I want to make sure that rubs off on the students.”

Greg Tallman, 17, of Broomall, Pa., says there is no better place to learn about government and public policy than the District.

As upcoming president of the senior class at Marple-Newtown Senior High School in Newtown Square, Pa., he says he wants to acquire the skills of national leaders. He says he is considering a career in politics.

“My mother was on the local school board,” Greg says. “That’s had an influence on me. I saw her going through the election process at the local level. Politics has always been in my background.”

Trevor Gerard, 17, of Staten Island, N.Y., says he wants to pursue a career in journalism. He is going to be a senior at St. Peter’s Boys High School in Staten Island. As a correspondent for the Staten Island Advance, he writes for the teenage section.

“I hope to learn to be a better leader,” Trevor says. “A good leader is someone who can get a variety of different people to work together.”

Carrie Rosenblum, 17, of West Hartford, Conn., says she would like to study Italian, French and Latin. She will be a senior at West Hartford’s William H. Hall High School. She has visited Italy twice and says she hopes to return soon. She is considering becoming a teacher, she says.

“My mom’s family is really into Italian culture and in touch with their roots,” Carrie says. “I love everything about Italy. I love the language. I think it’s really beautiful.”

As the students return home, it is hoped that they will become interested in their local and state governments, says Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican. He was a speaker at last week’s program and is a co-chairman of the Italian-American congressional delegation.

“Maybe a few of them will come to Congress one day,” Mr. Mica says. “I was interested from the time I was in high school. I’ve never lost my interest. I was prompted by a social studies teacher in high school.”

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