Law Students Bask in Glow of Obama Visit


There were a lot of impressed faces in the audience when President Obama came to UM in February.

"It was amazing seeing and hearing the president, especially during Black History Month," said second-year Miami Law student Shawn Hairston, president of the Black Law Student Association, as he stood in the BankUnited Center Fieldhouse for Obama's speech on energy policy. "It touched me immensely, and his vision for the future consumption of oil in the U is very progressive, and I support him 100 percent."

Hairston was referring to Obama's prediction that the University of Miami and other similarly large institutions would be able to save enormously on energy costs by implementing some of the research proposals that are being studied at UM's College of Engineering, which the president had visited just before giving his speech.

"What this facility does is teach these outstanding young engineers to do energy assessments," Obama said, as engineering graduate student Jason Grant led him on a tour of the college's Industrial Assessment Center, a government-supported facility that helps local companies become more energy efficient. The president, sans jacket, with his shirt sleeves rolled up, noted that the assessments save about 25 percent in energy costs. "It's a great example of how people are being trained right now to make our businesses more efficient all across the country," he said.

Another second-year law student, Alejandro Miyar, said he vividly remember Obama's visit to UM four years ago. "Now, as a law student," he said, "I am proud of his agenda for our future, one where America's own energy drives our destiny."

With a spike in gasoline prices forcing consumers to pay more at the pump, the message of Obama's visit to the University of Miami on Thursday was focused on energy policy, an exercise in political necessity given the sensitivity of the subject in an election year. Before more than 1,400 attendees &ndash most of them students &ndash he laid out his administration's plan for a more energy-efficient nation, less dependent on foreign oil. An increase in oil drilling, he said, is not the answer.

"If we're going to take control of our energy future, if we're going to avoid these gas price spikes down the line, then we need a sustained, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy &ndash oil, gas, wind, solar, nuclear, biofuels, and more," Obama said. "We need to keep developing the technology that allows us to use less oil in our cars and trucks, in our buildings and plants. That's the strategy we're pursuing, and that's the only real solution to this challenge."

While safe, responsible oil production should continue, new technologies and sources of energy are needed so that the nation isn't "held hostage by the ups and downs of the world oil market."

"The United States consumes more than a fifth of the world's oil &ndash more than 20 percent of the world's oil &ndash just us," Obama said. "We only have 2 percent of the world's oil reserves. We consume 20; we've got 2. And that means we can't just rely on fossil fuels from the last century... We've got to rely on American know-how and young engineers right here at the U who are focused on energy."

Obama said that sustainable energy initiatives abound in South Florida, noting that in 2008 Miami became the first major U.S. city to power its city hall entirely with solar and renewable energy, and he credited UM for helping "manufacturers save millions of dollars in energy bills by making their facilities more efficient."

The University of Miami that has implemented several "green" initiatives, from a program offering affordable bikes for students to a 50 percent campus-parking rebate for employees who drive hybrid vehicles. And several UM buildings &ndash including the Fieldhouse in which Obama spoke &ndash have obtained various levels of LEED certifications.

He touted his administration's successes, noting that two years ago the nation's dependence on foreign oil was under 50 percent and that in 2011 the use of clean, renewable energy nearly doubled. "We're taking every possible action to develop, safely, a near hundred-year supply of natural gas in this country &ndash something that experts believe will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade," said Obama, who reiterated his administration's support of the first new nuclear power plant in three decades.

He called on Congress to renew clean energy tax credits, saying they would lead to more jobs and less dependence on foreign oil. He said his administration is taking steps to make it easier for companies to save money by investing in "energy solutions that have been proven here in the University of Miami &ndash new lighting systems, advanced heating and cooling systems that can lower a company's energy bills and make them more competitive."

For UM students like Annalyssa Laney, seeing Obama was an opportunity she "didn't want to pass up." An 18-year-old freshman psychology major from Hollywood, Laney got in line at 9 p.m. on Tuesday to make sure she snapped up one of the hundreds of tickets that were distributed to students on Wednesday morning. "There were already a hundred people in line ahead of me," she said. Laney brought a chair and comforter from her dorm room, but admits she got little sleep, studying for a sociology test and munching on Skittles and potato chips to pass the time.

Sophomore Genesis Lugo said she slept in a sleeping bag, Tweeting and posting photos of her overnight campus camp-out on Facebook. "But the wait was well worth it," said Lugo.

Haitian-born Phalande Jean and her friend Shanda Jean Baptiste didn't have to wait in line at all to get their tickets. Jean said that they received an email from UM's entrepreneurial resource center, The Launch Pad, informing them that it had 30 extra tickets it would distribute to students on a first-come, first-served basis.

UM President Donna E. Shalala, who introduced Obama, said the commander in chief's visit "says a lot about how extraordinary the opportunities are at the University of Miami &ndash and the nice thing is, our students know it."