Local Student to Meet President Trump, Lands $10,000 Scholarship

HARRISBURG, Pa. (EYT) – A Redbank Valley senior earned a $10,000.00 scholarship and an opportunity to meet President Donald Trump.

[PHOTO: Colin Sheffer (left) poses with Redbank Valley Civics teacher, Dr. Joe Harmon.]

United States Senators, Susan Collins and Gary Gardner. Chief Judge, Robert H. Henry. Governor Chris Christie. Ambassador Richard Burt. Former presidential Chiefs of Staff, Karl Rove and Thomas F. McLarty, III.

The above are just a few of the more than 5,500 individuals who can call themselves alumni of the 57-year-old United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP).

Soon, there will be an additional name added to the distinguished circle of USSYP alumni.

Redbank Valley High School student, Colin Sheffer.

Sheffer, a senior and son of Andrew and Keli Sheffer of New Bethlehem, was recently notified by the chairman of the scholarship program of Pennsylvania that he was one of two recipients from the Commonwealth for the prestigious award which includes a $10,000 college scholarship and an all-expenses-paid week-long trip to Washington, D.C. in the spring.

Sheffer, who expected a phone call on December 14th, had to wait until the evening of the 16th to find out his fate.

“I originally thought I got the day wrong,” said Sheffer. “On Saturday, Dr. Harmon (Sheffer’s former Civics teacher) asked me if I had heard yet and when I told him I had not, he said he would check with his contacts. He later called me back to tell me that they were running behind.”

“I was sitting at my desk studying for my upcoming anatomy test on Sunday evening and my phone started ringing. When I saw the number I just got this feeling in my gut that I had won. I stood up, answered the call and on the other side of the phone, the chairman of the committee said he had some good news and some bad news. The good news was that I had won and I was in but the bad news was that I could not tell anyone until I got the paperwork in the mail.”

“I was excited. I was hoping he couldn’t tell but my voice was shaky. I ran downstairs right away to tell my parents and they were so excited for me.”

The paperwork eventually arrived at Sheffer’s house on Wednesday, which allowed him to share in the celebration with teachers and classmates.

“It was pretty hard to hold that in for three days,” admitted Sheffer. “Honestly, my friends drug it out of me at lunch on Monday. They knew I was expecting the call and they knew I probably would have been in tears had I not gotten it, so it was kind of a give away that I was not crying,” Sheffer joked. “But, I never actually said anything.”

The United States Senate Youth Program was established in 1962 and aims to provide a once in a lifetime educational experience for some of the brightest high school students from across the country who are pursuing a career in public service. The Senate Advisory Committee for the program consists of Vice-President Michael Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer.

Sheffer is one of only 104 students from across the United States to receive a spot in the program.

“I think it proves that students in this area have what it takes to compete nationally and that some of the country’s brightest students are growing up in communities just like New Bethlehem,” explained Sheffer. “Of the ten finalists from Pennsylvania, I was the only student from a rural school district. The rest were from suburban school districts surrounding Philadelphia, Scranton, and Pittsburgh.”

The 104 student leaders will spend a week in Washington from March 2nd through the 9th to experience their federal government in action.

They will have the opportunity to hear major policy addresses by senators, cabinet members, senior members of the national media, military officers, and directors of other federal agencies. The delegates will also get the honor of participating in meetings with a United States Supreme Court Justice and even President Donald Trump himself at the White House.

For Sheffer, the notion of getting the opportunity to meet President Trump in the White House is what excites him the most about winning the coveted spot within the program.

“It’s once in a lifetime. I think President Trump really hits home with a lot of his ideology. I think his administration embodies much of what is important to our community. I am just as thrilled as anybody else to meet with the President of the United States in person. I would have never dreamed I would have ever had the opportunity to sit down with the President as a high school student.”

All transportation, hotel, and meal expenses for the student delegates will be covered by The Hearst Foundation.

For Sheffer, the path to becoming one of the 104 student delegates began when he learned of the program from his teacher, Dr. Joe Harmon who thought Sheffer would be a strong candidate for the scholarship.

“I received an email last spring about the Senate Youth Competition” explained Harmon. “I immediately thought of Colin. He has a knowledge of politics and a voice for issues that is practically unmatched. I knew he applied, but then when he was chosen as a finalist for the state, I was elated. Each of the other finalists represented suburban districts and Colin was the only rural student. I was happy that this type of opportunity was given to him. I immediately reached out to a friend of mine, Amber Coleman-Mortley, a digital content manager from iCivics, to do a Skype with Colin and give him critical feedback for his oral interview. They connected and she gave him valuable input he was able to use in Harrisburg.”

Following Harmon’s advice, Sheffer applied for the scholarship this past October. The only major prerequisite for applicants was to hold an elected position in order to be considered for the program.

Sheffer fit into that category by serving in Redbank Valley’s student council for the past two school years. Former Redbank Valley Student Council adviser, Mr. Bill Weaver, told exploreClarion that Sheffer’s communication skills greatly helped the student council promote events and activities within the school and the community.

“Colin is the Executive Public Relations Officer so he handled all of the publicity for STUCO events. He was our constant social media presence and made posters and ads about our events while also relaying information to the local media. He always goes above and beyond his position and helps with other things within STUCO as well.”

Although his role within student council fulfilled the requirement for the mandated elected position, Sheffer also serves within the school and the community in a multitude of other ways. He has served on the Redbank Valley school board for three years and was instrumental in passing a number of student initiatives.

Redbank Valley School Board president, Dr. Chad Shaffer says that Sheffer’s most important qualities are even more impressive when they are witnessed in someone at such a young age.

“Colin took the position of student representative and changed it from being a simple reporter to being a valuable contributor in board discussions. He has leadership talents and a personal drive that are exciting to see in a young person. Civic mindedness is being emphasized by the faculty at Redbank Valley, and Colin is a tremendous source of district pride.”

Sheffer is also the first ever junior borough councilman for the New Bethlehem Borough Council. Council president, Sandra Mateer echoes Shaffer’s sentiments.

“Colin Sheffer, our New Bethlehem Borough Junior Councilperson, has been a great and welcome addition to our council. He attends out meetings faithfully, provides useful comments and helps us become aware of concerns and perspectives of the younger generation. His selection as a delegate is well-deserved recognition. Council wishes him much success.”

Ten finalists from the state were invited to the final selection process which included an interview and public affairs test with the final selection committee.

“I could tell that the selection committee was impressed with the answers to my questions and my credentials. Most notably they liked my experience on the school board due to some unique circumstances I was able to navigate through alongside the school board.”

Sheffer (center) is pictured with Sally Flaherty from the Department of Education and Jeff Kusinez, chairman of Pennsylvania's scholarship program.

Sheffer (center) is pictured with Sally Flaherty from the Department of Education and Jeff Kusinez, chairman of Pennsylvania’s scholarship program.

Although Sheffer thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Harrisburg, he by no means thought that he was a shoe-in to be one of the two finalists chosen.

“I honestly did not feel confident coming out of the interview. Beforehand, all the candidates had a luncheon together so I got to meet all of the other candidates. I was impressed with their level of initiative and their level of experiences. These kids were phenomenal. I thought to myself, ‘Man these kids are like me, but better.'”

The trip to Harrisburg to compete with the other nine finalists took place on Saturday, November 17th. Upon returning to New Bethlehem, all Sheffer could do was sit back and wait to see if a dream could become a reality.

Nearly a month had passed until that long-awaited phone call confirming a dream come true arrived on that special Sunday night in December.

Sheffer, who aspires to one day to be a lawyer, describes the whole process as a surreal one.

“Having this opportunity coming from Redbank Valley really means a lot to me. I have a lot of pride in this community so it’s exciting to have the chance to represent Redbank Valley in Washington, D.C. I want to thank two of my teachers, Dr. Joe Harmon and Mr. Bill Weaver for coaching me through the selections process which included helping me in the application process and prepping me for the interview.”

In addition to serving in student council, on Redbank Valley’s school board, and the New Bethlehem Borough Council, Sheffer also aided in Pennsylvania State Representative Donna Oberlander’s 2018 re-election campaign. Oberlander says that while she’s ecstatic for Sheffer, she is by no means surprised that he is representing the Commonwealth.

pictured with Pennsylvania State Representative Donna Oberlander

Sheffer pictured with Pennsylvania State Representative Donna Oberlander

Oberlander told exploreClarion.com, “I met Colin during an 8th-grade presentation that I did at Redbank Valley. He reached out to me this year to offer his help with my re-election effort. We exchanged emails and then Colin volunteered with my campaign. His enthusiasm, work ethic and interest in politics were top notch. He recruited other outstanding individuals as well and I was very grateful to have these young people on my team.”

“When Colin shared with me that he has passed the first round in this competition, I wasn’t surprised. He is an excellent student, a very intelligent and thoughtful young man, but I was beyond excited when he let me know he won!”

“I’m so proud of him and know that this is going to be a once in a lifetime experience for him in a life that will be filled with many successes.”

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