The annual pilgrimage to Richmond, Va., from George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus began just after dawn and during a flash flood warning on blustery Feb. 6. But that didn’t stop 40 Mason students—most of them Schar School government and international politics or public administration undergraduates—from making the bus ride to the state capital for a day of advocating for higher education issues during Mason Lobbies Day.
The students divided into small teams and spent much of the morning meeting with members of the General Assembly and their staffs, presenting information about pertinent bills working their ways through the statehouse.
Most of the students were participating for the first time and had little idea of what to expect.
“This is absolutely democracy in action,” said Mason interim president Anne Holton during her welcoming remarks. “You will see a beautiful exercise in democracy.”
Majority Leader Charniele Herring, BA Economics ’93, provided tips for successful advocating to the rookie lobbyists: “Make eye contact, know something about the member, and be brief,” she offered.
State Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-29th), who earned his BA and Master’s in Public Administration from Mason, told the students not to “assume your legislator knows what you know; they may be hearing this for the first time.”
He charged the students with a future of public advocacy, adding, “Even if this is the first time you are reaching out to a legislator, it will not be your last. That is not going to change throughout your life.”
After welcoming remarks by Holton, Herring, McPike, and fellow Mason alumna (B.S. psychology 2012 and MPA 2015) and legislative and policy director Gerica Goodman, Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41st) joined the students, wearing a Mason green and gold scarf, for a group photo.
Later in the morning the students were ushered into the upper galleries of the House and Senate to watch legislators vote on bills. In the Senate, Lieutenant Governor and President pro tempore Justin Fairfax gave the floor to McPike, jokingly introducing him as “the senator from George Mason University.” McPike rose with the microphone and acknowledged the students in the gallery, remarking on Mason’s current successes in research and scholarship.
The gesture was a memorable one, students said.
“The standout moments for me were having the Mason delegation recognized on the Senate floor and getting to meet Del. Michael Webert [R-18th],” said public administration senior Dawson Weinhold.
“The highlight of Mason Lobbies for me was being able to see how invested the students and legislators were in these meetings,” said Yasmin Jaramillo, a government and international politics major. “The students were all so prepared and passionate about advocating for our school, they truly had an effect on the legislators they met with. Being the one who organized this event, it was the best to see how much the students got out of it and the impact they made.”
“The overall opportunity to travel to Richmond and advocate for more funding from the state, so that Mason can continue to make an impact, was very much my highlight,” said integrative studies junior Cedric Price. “Out of my three years at Mason, this was the first time that I was able to participate in Mason Lobbies and don't plan on it being my last. I say that largely because of the valuable opportunity it gave me in experiencing how democracy works and how much power a simple conversation can have.”
“It’s amazing to be able to advocate on the behalf of Mason and make an impact,” said government and international politics junior Kimberly Posada. “My highlight was meeting Delegate Hala Ayala [D-51st] and being able to speak to her about education. I would recommend Mason Lobbies to anyone that wants to advocate for legislation to get passed.”