In tune on campus: Inquiring students get chance for Q&A with Tester

The Missoulian

by Chelsi Moy

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester looked at home in front of the music class Tuesday morning at the University of Montana, as if the former teacher was falling back into his old role.

"Anyone play brass?" Tester, a trumpet player, asked the college students as they filed into the music room. "Who plays brass?"

Tester visited three university classes on Tuesday morning, talking to students about how the things they learn today may affect the rest of their lives. Tester's visit was part of a program called Congress to Campus, which is made possible because of a grant secured by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center on the UM campus.

Tester visited a music class, an argumentation class and a political science class. Music performances and high school speech and debate taught Tester skills that helped him become a better public speaker and bolster his self-confidence, he said.

Getting students excited about music was Tester's goal when he worked as an elementary school music teacher in Big Sandy, his hometown. Tester graduated from the College of Great Falls in 1978 with a degree in music.

He spoke of the difficulty he had learning to identify intervals, chords and rhythms. Yet, playing in an ensemble teaches people about working together. Performing helps public speaking and learning music enhances listening skills, he said.

Yet, despite Tester's personal stories, the students wanted to know about national policy and where the senator stood on the issues. They asked about health care, reform of the student loan industry, the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, global climate change and school funding.


Destiny Harris is a business marketing major enrolled in the argumentation class, where students learn the skills of debate. The Missoula native had never met Tester, and so felt it was heartening for a busy U.S. senator to take time out of his schedule to visit their class, she said. She liked that he explained health care in a way that students could understand.

"It was from a perspective of a student," he said.

The $200,000 grant that helped fund Tester's visit is part of new initiative by the Mansfield Center to further interest in ethical public policy by developing the next generation of civic leaders and fostering discussions of public policy and leadership.

Earlier this year, the center passed out $17,250 in grants and scholarships to 18 students to study leadership and U.S. public policy. Also, the center is hosting community conversations around the state. The first, held in March in Helena, asked the question: "Has the government ceased to function?" It was hosted by former state Republican lawmaker Bob Brown and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Pat Williams.

"One of the most fun things I do is talking to young people," said Tester, who was the first of Montana's congressional delegates to participate in the Congress to Campus Program.

Many in the music room were aware of Tester's music skills. Suddenly, a trumpet appeared in the room.

"Sorry it has to be gold; I don't play a silver one," said Tester jokingly, placing the silver trumpet on the piano behind him. "Save the worst for last."

Despite encouragement from an enthusiastic crowd, Tester only played a couple of notes, assuring the crowd it'd been a very long while.