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Indiana State students attend Obama Manufacturing Day event

October 6, 2014

During a rest stop, Indiana State University student Kate Cox wondered aloud if her absence from class on Friday would be excused.

Given the fact she'll be able to prove her absence with any number of newspaper clips or C-SPAN footage, she might even get extra credit. Cox, a sophomore from Mount Vernon, Ind., and 14 of her College of Technology classmates travelled to Millennium Steel Services in Princeton, Ind., to hear President Barack Obama speak in honor of Manufacturing Day.

Cox was one of just a few of the 200-or so in attendance who had the opportunity to ask the president a question -- "Recently ... we've been hearing a lot about the EPA and the ‘war on coal.' What are your feelings on that?"

Obama responded that much of the news is hype.

"A lot of people think that (a decrease in the use of coal) is because of environmental regulations, and the truth of the matter is there are some environmental regulations that have had an impact," he said.

"But actually, the main reason that our plants in America are using less coal is because natural gas is so cheap. So the real war on coal is natural gas, which is because of new technologies, we are now extracting (it) at a rate that is unbelievable."

Coal still supplies about 50 percent of America's energy needs, so Obama said he wants those plants to burn it as cleanly as possible.

"And the second thing we need to do is to make sure that some of the new opportunities in clean energy and in natural gas and other energy-related industries .... locate in places that used to have coal or used to be primarily coal country," he said.

Cox, who wants to go into pharmaceutical packaging as a career, said environment impact has been top-of-mind for her recently. "We took an environmental class about biodegradable products and how packaging can affect (the environment). It seemed like a relevant question," she said.

"I was excited he picked me, so basically anything he would have come back with would have been fine with me," she said, with a laugh.

The opportunity for Sycamores to hear the leader of the free world speak was a whirlwind of last-minute arrangements.

Teresa Dwyer, assistant director of employer relations at Indiana State's Career Center, said she signed up for the tour of Millennium Steel and the nearby Toyota plant as an opportunity to participate in one of the many the Manufacturing Day events across the state and make some necessary connections with these major southern Indiana employers. She then received a cryptic email asking how many students she was bringing with her -- and to watch the news.

After putting two-and-two together, Dwyer and fellow staff members had about an hour to recruit a group of students. Time, as it turns out, was not a factor, and they assembled a talented and diverse group of student leaders, among them Desiree Edwards of Paris, Ill.

The senior human resource development major is president of the Females in Technology student organization. It was actually her second time meeting Obama.

"I saw him, way back in the day, when I was a youngster. We went on a field trip when he was a senator and not a big deal -- look at him now," she said. "He had a little darker hair and less wrinkles."

The question Cox, who hopes to work in manufacturing and production when she graduates, would have liked to ask the president was about outsourcing.

"People are everything. People are the line, people are the workers," she said. "And he talked about it. Bev (Bitzegaio, student career support outreach director) gave me the eye, ‘Hey, he's talking about your question!'"

Politics aside, shaking Obama's hand was a memorable experience, Cox said.

"It was great to see him know so much. I could never (remember) that many statistics. A lot of people talk negatively about Obama, especially in rural communities. He has so much knowledge, and you can tell in his eyes that he really does care. That's what touched me the most. He really cares about the points he was talking about."

Much of the day was spent waiting for the president's arrival, and Sycamores made the most of it by networking. Their efforts were not lost on the company's management, and the group was invited back for a tour of the plant.

"It's the president. Important people are going to be here," said Herman Jean-Baptiste, a senior mechanical engineering technology major from Deer Park, N.Y. He said he hoped some of the connections he made will help "jump-start" his career.

After the national anthem and Pledge of Allegiance to an enormous flag, Obama was introduced by Millennium Steel CEO Henry Jackson, a Vietnam veteran who built the company into one of the largest minority-owned ventures in the country.

Obama started the largely question-and-answer event with a few remarks about how manufacturing is fueling the economic recovery. On Friday, a jobs report announced unemployment had dropped to 5.9 percent, the lowest in six years.

It's a "period of insourcing, rather than outsourcing," Obama said, although also recognizing "we still have a lot of work to do." To speed the economic recovery, Obama proposed rebuilding the country's infrastructure -- roads, bridges and ports -- raise the minimum wage and compensate female workers equally to their male counterparts.

Questions from the audience ranged from the Rebuild America Act, the effects of raising the minimum wage, health insurance costs, how to improve the rural economy, research and development activities, equal pay for women and how small businesses can be competitive but also compensate employees more.


Photos: -- Kate Cox, a sophomore packaging engineering technology student from Mount Vernon, Ind., asks President Barack Obama a question. -- Indiana State University students pose for a photograph after attending an event for Manufacturing Day, at which President Barack Obama spoke and answered questions. -- Anthony Morin, left, a junior mechanical engineering technology major from Linton, and Herman Jean-Baptiste, a senior mechanical engineering technology major from Deer Park, N.Y., wait to be shuttled to Millennium Steel Services to hear President Barack Obama speak on Friday. -- The Manufacturing Day event at Millennium Steel Services in Princeton, Ind., was a ticket-holder-only event. -- President Barack Obama speaks to a group -- including Indiana State University students -- at Millennium Steel Services in Princeton, Ind.

Contact: Teresa Dwyer, assistant director for employer relations, Career Center at Indiana State University, 812-237-2582 or

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or