Kent State Alumna, now U.S. Congresswoman Emilia Sykes U.S. Rep. Emilia Sykes addresses the power of a public university education.

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While a student at Kent State University, U.S. Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-OH-13) dreamed of taking the stage as a dancer in New York City, not as a congresswoman in Washington, D.C. But today she’s a star in the eyes of many, with her federal legislative debut drawing attention beyond Northeast Ohio. 

This Akron native comes by her position naturally, as the daughter of former state representatives Barbara and Vernon Sykes, who is now an Ohio state senator. Although the junior Sykes has a love for the arts, this civically minded woman said she’s always felt a strong call to help people, too. 

During her visit to Kent State University at Stark on March 14, Congresswoman Sykes talked about the power of a public education that’s affordable and close to home. As she toured the state-of-the-art Science & Nursing Building, she learned firsthand about how the Stark Campus is preparing nurses to enter an in-demand field, armed with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and how other Regional Campuses also educate future nurses through BSN and associate degree offerings. 

Sykes discussed Kent State University’s strong academic programs as she toured the campus with Dr. Peggy Shadduck, vice president of Regional Campuses and dean of the College of Applied and Technical Studies (CATS), and Nick Gattozzi, executive director of Government and Community Relations. Sykes learned about one of the Stark Campus’ signature programs — music technology — from Dr. Rob Sturr, assistant dean, and Dean Denise A. Seachrist, Ph.D., who led the tour. 

At the newly renovated Fine Arts Building, Sykes heard about the bachelor’s degree program that draws even international students to the campus in Jackson Township, where students learn the engineering and production skills necessary for a successful career in the recording industry.  

Kent State opens doors 

When an injury sidelined Sykes’ dreams of becoming a principal dancer at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City, she took part in Kent State University’s Columbus Program in State Issues (CPSI), which helps tomorrow’s leaders understand public policy development at the state level. At the time, her father, who is also a professor emeritus at Kent State, headed up CPSI.

Through the program, she served as an intern at the state capitol, where she studied the practical aspects of public policymaking firsthand.

“I learned much more about state government as a student than being a child of two members of the state legislature,” Sykes said. “It certainly made me appreciate government and its role in our society and why it’s important to protect our democracy and support people through public service.”

Being a member of Kent State’s strong alumni family has opened doors. She and fellow Kent State alumna, the Honorable Betty S. Sutton who serves on the Ninth District Court of Appeals, are good friends. “Soon, we are actually going to have the same office address. I just keep following her around,” Sykes joked. “From Kent State to Congress to our offices on Main Street in Akron.”

It’s not uncommon, she added, to find members of the Golden Flash family out in the world doing “people-centered work.”

Value of a public university education 

During her recent visit to the Stark Campus, Sykes stopped to greet students, who were helping to raise awareness of Equal Pay Day, recognized nationally on March 14.

“I think it’s important that she’s focused on big topics, like this one, especially because we are young women trying to make a difference,” said Amber Lanctot, a freshman English major from Hartville. “ I really appreciate her stopping by to say ‘hi.’ It was really cool to see a woman be in such a place of power and be so well-spoken and her outfit is just amazing, too. She’s just so inspiring.” 

For Sykes, it’s about making a difference wherever — and whenever — she can.

“I don’t want to say there are negative stereotypes but, you know, there are many ideas out there,” she said. “I am just as capable of engaging in conversations at a high level as anyone else and bringing a perspective of why it is so important to support public institutions, which give more people opportunities so they can participate in our government. 

“Our government only functions if we have a diversity of thoughts and ideas and backgrounds — and that’s what public institutions do for us across the country,” Sykes added. “That is why it is important to invest — why we should invest in public education — and why these institutions are important to support and make sure that they still thrive so people can get opportunities.”

Sykes said it’s critical to embrace her roots because she aims to serve as a congresswoman who represents her region well.

“In Congress, there are a lot of folks from Ivy League schools; there are very few state school/public school members,” she said. “And it’s an important reminder that these universities support education and learning for a much broader variety of people who are first-generation college students, who struggle to make tuition payments or just day-to-day living, who are not often given the same opportunities as some schools in the northeastern part of the country. 

“Still, a public, state education is very valuable and produces top-notch scholars and even folks who can find themselves in the halls of Congress one day.”

Just like Kent State’s very own, Emilia Sykes. 

POSTED: Thursday, March 16, 2023 02:48 PM
Updated: Friday, April 21, 2023 12:02 PM
Melissa Griffy Seeton, Kent State University at Stark