It was an early departure—7 a.m.—and the weather was cold and icy—in fact, the rest of the university was on a delayed opening until 11 a.m. But still, some 40 George Mason University undergraduate students piled into a chartered bus and departed the Fairfax Campus for the two-hour journey to Richmond to meet with state legislators.
The annual Mason Lobbies Day, sponsored by Mason Student Government, found those students taking meetings as teams in 28 different offices in Richmond to advocate for various issues facing the Commonwealth’s higher education system. Many of those undergraduate students were Government and International Politics majors in the Schar School of Policy and Government.
Tim O’Shea, a student in the Bachelor of Arts in Government and International Politics program, visited the offices of Democratic Minority Leader Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn and Del. Paul Krizek (D), and watched a session at the State Senate chamber.
“Students argued for the 2019 State Legislative Priorities for Mason, which include funding requests for teacher pay, financial aid, research funding, general funding, and upgrades to telecommunications infrastructure,” said O’Shea, the executive secretary for government and community relations for Mason Student Government. “Every student had three meetings with legislators. In total we visited 29 state legislators, with students broken into groups and taking different meetings at different times.”
Erik Truong, also majoring in Government and International Politics, visited Filler-Corn’s office, as well as those of Del. Kathy Tran (D) and Del. Danica Roem (D).
“The issue we focused most on was increased state funding for Mason and higher education in general,” he said. “For the current workforce, a bachelor’s degree has become more of a necessity rather than a luxury—however, access to high education and student debt remain a problem. We believe that by funding aid programs—scholarships, grants, work study—our students will have more access to succeed in college.”
The students did not go into the day cold. Mason’s Office of Government and Community Relations, led by Executive Director of State Relations Mark Smith, prepared the lobbyists-for-the-day from top to bottom, from what to wear and carrying Mason-branded business card holders to the hard facts of legislative priorities.
“This was my first Mason Lobbies. Day, and I was pleasantly surprised how receptive the legislators and their staff were to our concerns,” said Truong. “This experience made me realize that it doesn't take lots of money or power to spur change—all it takes are passionate people ready for a better future.”
See a video of the day here.