Saint Martin’s students take part in Student Engagement Network Advocacy Day
Olivia Alvord, Staff Writer
On Sun. Feb. 2 and Mon. Feb. 3, several Saint Martin’s Students attended the Washington Student Engagement Network (WA-SEN) Advocacy Day. WA-SEN’s vision is to “advance equity, higher education attainment, and robust financial aid by elevating the diverse voices of Washington Students.”
During last year’s session, legislators passed a successful student aid program — the Washington College Grant (formerly the State Need Grant) — which, “provides funding for low-and-middle income students to attend 65 higher education and career training situations throughout the state.”
This year, Student Engagement Day focused on advocating for students within the gap of eligibility who are not receiving support.
This lens concentrates on allowing students to tell their personal stories regarding financial aid and higher education. Specifically, students participating in the event discussed how the Washington College Grant has affected them and people they know. This showed legislators that there was a face and a name to every statistic.
The Student Engagement Day was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and provided attendees with a dinner and hotel room stay during training on Feb. 2, and lunch the following day. Students began arriving at the Governor Hotel in downtown Olympia around 3:00 p.m., which was followed by registration, dinner, a guest speaker, and a role play activity from 6-10 p.m. Toward the end of the evening, students were placed in groups based on which legislators they were meeting with the following day. Groups then had a chance to meet and plan their approach for meetings the next day.
Activities started early the following day, Feb. 3, with a hotel breakfast from 6-7:30 a.m., which was followed by a quick day of orientation before students met with designated groups. Meetings with legislators were held for 15 minutes each from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1-3 p.m. with a lunch and meeting with the Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib in between.
The day ended at 4 p.m. with photos on the Senate floor and in the capitol rotunda, debriefing worksheets, thank you letters to legislators, and closing remarks.
Freshman, Franny Anunobi, talked a little bit about the program: “I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in this year’s Student Engagement Day! During the day, I spoke with numerous senators and representatives, and as a constituent, was able to provide them with a personal voice for the importance of financial aid in higher education. I think it is easy to feel intimidated by the capitol and by our representatives, but working with WA-SEN left me with the newfound understanding that our representatives are here to serve us and listen to us. We do not need to be politicians or lawyers to visit the capitol and speak with legislators because we have the valuable expertise of knowing what it means to be a Washington and U.S. citizen, which makes us the perfect messenger to communicate our wants and hopes to our legislators. It was so encouraging to see so many intelligent and capable young adults participating in the Student Engagement Day, and I can only hope that more and more students continue to participate each year!”
Junior, Kelsey Monaco, a Legal Studies and International Relations major, also reflected on her experience. Monaco said, “This was my first time attending this kind of event so it was really interesting to see the behind the scenes at the capitol. It was really cool to be able to actually meet with Washington state legislators and talk with them about funding higher education. It felt like we were actually making a difference and our voices were being heard. At first it was really nerve wracking and intimidating, but all the legislators and their staff were really nice and actually seemed to listen to us and appreciated us coming in. It was also really cool to be surrounded by other students from SMU and from schools across the state who had the same interests and to see what kind of advocacy work they were doing in their communities. I will definitely continue to go to events like these in the future!”
Heather Roberst, an international student from Liverpool, England, is studying to be a lawyer. She too expressed her thoughts about the unique event, and offered comment: “I really enjoyed the Student Engagement Day. It was a great experience that exceeded my expectations; I was initially concerned because I knew very little about the U.S. student finance system, however the program provides all the information needed to present and gave a structure to use for the interview alongside a free dinner the night before! I would definitely recommend that those interested in political or legal studies consider taking part next year. It was a rare and exciting opportunity to speak with and educate legislators that will look great on any resume. It was also good practice at interviewing in a higher-pressure environment and helping to prepare for future job ventures and events.”