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      Point of Pride

      Widener Students Advocate in Pennsylvania State Capitol

      student advocacy day

      Pennsylvania State Capitol

      Widener students participate in the Association for Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania’s Student Aid Advocacy Day at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.

      Widener University students made their voices heard on April 17 when they visited the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

      More than three dozen students and faculty – Professor Loyd Bastin and Associate Professors Angie Corbo, J. Wesley Leckrone, Marina Barnett and Andrea Martin – traveled to Harrisburg to connect with more than 50 legislative offices on issues the students are passionate about.

      "We were in the Capitol on one of the busiest days of the legislative session," said Leckrone, a political science associate professor. "The students really got a taste of how legislators are pulled in many directions. At the same time, they got to see first hand that politicians are interested in what they have to say and that representative democracy works when people voice their opinions to politicians. Overall it was a great learning experience."

      The statewide advocacy effort was coordinated by the Association for Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP), which every year organizes Student Aid Advocacy Day at the Capitol. This year, students spoke out against a proposed cut to the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) and its Ready to Succeed Scholarship program that gives middle-income students financial help for college.

      PHEAA Funding

      Emily Bruce, a junior communication studies major, and her classmates in a social science course on political engagement prepared during the spring semester for Student Aid Advocacy Day by learning about declines in PHEAA funding and crafting their message.

      The class created postcards that students across the university filled out to show their support for higher education financial assistance. The cards were then divided to give to legislators based on constituent addresses.

      "Many college students have to take out loans, and without these loans, they couldn't come to school or even have a chance," Bruce said. "The whole issue of PHEAA funding is really important to students."

      Clean Air Legislation

      Sean Taggart, a junior math education major, and his classmates undertook a similar campaign in a chemistry course to collect postcards to advocate for two sustainable chemistry bills related to tagging fracking fluids with tracers to identify the source and improving public drinking water and air quality.

      "I've always enjoyed the political aspect, but this is probably the most politically active I've ever been," Taggart said. "I enjoy it."

      With the postcards in hand, the classes traveled to Harrisburg and split off into teams to meet with key legislators and their staff.

      Meeting Lawmakers

      Zunilda Jamatte, senior digital media informatics major, led one of the groups that spoke to Representatives Thomas Murt and James Santora, as well as other lawmakers, about the student aid funding cuts. Later in the day, Santora offered a surprise tour of the floor of the House of Representatives to Jamatte's group.

      "It felt really good to be immersed in the Capitol," Jamatte said. "It was hectic and lively, and it was cool that the legislators took time out of their busy days to talk to us."

      Bruce agreed.

      "It was really interesting to see that the government cares about what I think," Bruce said. "It gave me a lot of experience on how to set up a meeting and advocate for an issue."

      Students in the Center for Social Work Education led by Barnett also participated in the day and met with 12 legislators from both chambers to discuss the student aid funding cuts.

      evan advocacy

      Student Research

      Evan Perkowski, a senior biology major, presents research at the Pennsylvania State Capitol on April 16.

      Student Research

      One student, Evan Perkowski, a senior biology major, also presented his research in the Capitol. His project focused on taking moth species that can feed on more than one host plant and restricting them to a single host plant diet. Then, he looked at the fat and water content of the experimental caterpillars.

      "This was a fun presentation because it was my first time speaking to politicians about scientific concepts and the broader applications of undergraduate research," Perkowski said. "I found that I really enjoy presenting research to general audiences and found that I might have an interest in using my knowledge of scientific concepts to help bridge the gap between policymakers and those in the scientific community."

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