WA-SEN participants on the steps of the Capitol Building following a day of visiting legislators during Olympia Day 2020. (Photo Courtesy of WA-SEN)

Washington Student Engagement Networks offers students opportunity to advocate for higher education

Washington state college students, including those who attend Pierce College, will have the chance to advocate for higher education and speak with legislators this month. Pierce students will meet with Pierce South region legislators on March 11 to share their stories of academic challenges they’ve faced. This opportunity is being brought to the college through the Washington Student Engagement Networks, a group focused on helping students elevate their voices and tell their stories.  

The Independent Colleges of Washington organization took the lead in building WA-SEN to bring together college students across the state to discuss issues that impact higher education such as financial aid with legislators. In December 2017, WA-SEN hosted its first symposium at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey. 

Since the beginning of WA-SEN, every year participating students travel to Olympia and speak with legislators about the importance of the Washington College Grant, formerly known as the State Need Grant. In March 2018, the Washington legislature launched a plan to fully fund the grant in the next four years. 

“We all just send on Olympia with our green scarves and we’re very loud and we’re very vocal with our needs as students. Within three weeks, every single time, every single year, they (the Washington state legislature) have given more funding and they’ve done more,” said Vanessa Primer, the WA-SEN student liaison at Pierce College.

WA-SEN hosted its Olympia Days Summit training virtually on Feb. 6 to prepare students for their discussions with legislators. A total of 19 Pierce College students attended. Of all participating colleges, Pierce College ranked second for the most students that signed up for the event. Pierce College students will meet with their district and regional legislators March 11 through Zoom. 

Normally, WA-SEN participants are grouped with students from different colleges and are given the opportunity to speak with three to four legislators throughout the day in the Capitol. Due to COVID-19, the legislative visits this year are virtual and started on Feb. 11 and will end March 15. 

For the 2021 Olympia Days Summit, students register for the region their college campus is part of to meet their legislators. When registering, students select the hours they are available for the day of the meeting. Based on students’ availability, WA-SEN’s regional coordinator will connect them with their scheduled appointments and provide the names of legislators and the time both groups will be meeting.

“Now that we’re doing it virtually and we’re doing it by region, it means that each student can impact more than the normal amount of representatives. At the same time, it means that our groups of students are going to be larger, ” said Primer.

The meetings will include conversations about funding the Washington College Grant and how the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on college students’ access to resources. 

“We have a lot of students this year that were already hungry that are hungrier. We have students that weren’t hungry before that are hungry now,” said Primer. 

One of the students who has seen the toll COVID-19 has had on students is Khadija Abdi, the vice president of student government at Fort Steilacoom and a participant at the WA-SEN training summit. Abdi wants to address the psychological problems, like depression and financial difficulties, that students face with online learning. Abdi also plans to mention the struggles student-parents are facing with balancing school and helping their children. Abdi’s concerns are from the struggles her siblings and friends are facing.

“I see it from their face. They are struggling really really hard. It’s really hard to focus and make sure you are engaging in the classroom properly,” said Abdi. 

In addition to addressing college students’ concerns, students such as Ruyi Wan, the administrative senator of the student government at Fort Steilacoom, is looking to learn from both students and legislators. 

“If I learn what support we have for our students I can support more students in our college,” said Wan, “The more I know the more I can share.”

Before the meeting with legislators, Primer will be offering two Zoom sessions for Pierce College students. The first will be held on March 9 at 6 p.m. and the second on March 10 at 1 p.m. To receive an invitation for these sessions, students must email Primer at vprimer9355@smail.com. Primer will be sharing the Fist method, a five-step process that makes up the different parts of students’ stories, taught by her mentor Dr. Jonathan “JB” Brown. 

“What does a fist do? It makes an impact. A fist makes an impact. You want to make an impact,” said Primer. 

Students that are interested in participating in the upcoming legislative meeting can still join even if they didn’t attend the training event. Pierce College students interested in attending the March 11 meeting can register for Pierce South Region’s Olympia Day by March 9.  

“They are a student; their voice is important. Their voice should be heard,” said Primer.

Interviews and article by @cpaezreporting on Twitter.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Celine Paez

Washington Student Engagement Networks offers students opportunity to advocate for higher education

by Celine Paez time to read: 3 min