Local teen attends national leadership conference

04/09/2014 12:00 AM

04/08/2014 2:15 PM

Alex Rodin recently got some hands-on learning experience in handling a national crisis.

As part of the National Youth Leadership Conference for National Security run by the Envision program, Rodin and other high-achieving high school students from around the country spent six days in Washington, D.C., learning how the different parts of the U.S. government work together to maintain national security.

Students were taught basic concepts and then got to role-play as Congress members, reporters, executive-branch officials or military leaders in a simulated national crisis.

Rodin, a senior at Pitman High School in Turlock, entered the House of Representatives, where he was nominated to become speaker. His job included monitoring the economy, maintaining his party and acting as a spokesman. Being speaker initially wasn’t much of a challenge, Rodin said. “It was really easy, especially since most of us had the same ideologies.”

But then trouble struck. Drug cartels in Mexico, El Salvador and Columbia began to engage in terrorist activities that threatened the security of major cities such as Los Angeles. To combat the problem, Congress boldly proposed a bill that would legalize the drugs so that the cartels could no longer profit from illegal sales.

There were “a few problems with the other branches trying to withhold information, but besides that it ran pretty smooth,” Rodin said. “At one point, we had to stop talking to the media because we didn’t want anything to come back and hurt us as a branch.” However, Congress used its control over the budget to successfully persuade the other branches to go along with the plan.

Students in the program also went on various side trips to visit government offices such as the CIA and NSA headquarters, various diplomat offices, and the Naval Academy, which Rodin particularly enjoyed.

Rodin, who was nominated by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, for acceptance to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., particularly enjoyed going on a campus tour of the Naval Academy.

“The campus offered so much while I was there, from the campus to the opportunities down the road, such as the careers in the future,” he said. “There was also a strong-knit community of people who worked/attend there. Everyone I met there was very professional and enjoyed what they did. It really cemented my stance on wanting to enter the armed forces.”

Rodin, 17, is in the Civil Air Patrol, Squadron 50, out of Modesto. He also was a senior patrol leader for Troop 451 of the Boy Scouts of America and at Pitman has played football for four years and is on the varsity baseball team.

The for-profit Envision program got a lot of negative attention several years back over questionable marketing strategies. An April 2009 article by The New York Times said, “The big promises in its mailings and the sheer volume of its business have gotten the company into trouble in the last few months. At least one lawsuit has been filed over its conference during the inauguration, and in February, after nearly 25 years in operation, it lost its Better Business Bureau accreditation.”

Still, the Times noted that “the young participants generally give the trips positive reviews: surveys by the “Congressional Youth Leadership) Council show close to 97 percent satisfaction, and many conferees later recommend friends.” Rodin said his conference lived up to his expectations of a “once-in-a-lifetime chance,” and also “had a very positive impact on me (that) enlightened me to legislative jobs and maybe wanting to venture that path after the military.”

Rodin found out about the program by being nominated by a teacher to receive a letter in the mail. However, anyone can go to the Envision website, www.envisionexperience.com, to register.

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