Students Lobby Lawmakers for More Money

Four students and a faculty advisor recently attended the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) Capitol Forum in Washington D.C., where they became the first to represent Sacramento City College to the U.S. Congress as students from a newly minted Hispanic Serving Institution. Sacramento City College is the first institution of higher education in the Sacramento region to be named an HSI college based on the fact that more than 25% of its students identify as Hispanic.

Rose Shoen, Maria Medina, Jose Quezada and Mario Garcia were chosen to represent SCC students after a lengthy application process that included writing an essay and maintaining a high grade point average. In addition, the students had to be a beneficiary of some type of federal benefit. This might include federal financial aid, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or other programs.

“I knew we would meet people who could help us connect with resources to help our community,”  said Medina, an economics major who plans to transfer to Sacramento State in the fall semester. “For myself, I love to help and advocate for people, many who don’t have a voice for themselves.”

Economics and Business Statistics professor Sandra Camarena arranged the trip and served as the student advisor. Camarena was named an HSI Fellow in 2014 by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and spent two weeks in Washington last summer learning about all the programs, opportunities and resources available to students of HSI colleges.

“It changed my perspective on teaching,” Camarena said. “I came back with all kinds of ideas in my head. “

That included taking students back to D.C. to lobby on behalf of their classmates and the college. Once in Washington, the students learned how to craft messages on various education-related issues that face Hispanic students, and how to lobby legislators in the correct manner.

“You have to be super specific and get your message across in 30 seconds or less,” Camarena said. “You only get one shot at it.”

So the students stayed up until 2 a.m. the morning before they were to meet with U.S. Representatives John Garamendi and Doris Matsui, honing their messages on the need to use Pell grants for summer classes and STEM grants for HSI institutions. Rose, Maria, Jose and Mario were four of the 15 student representatives from California to attend the lobbying event.

“The best apart was talking to Representative Matsui,” said Shoen, an economics major who is transferring to U.C. Davis in the fall through the TAG (Transfer Agreement) program. “It was really cool to be able to interact with our representative while on Capitol Hill. Plus, she represents really close to Sac City College.”

After their day of lobbying, Camarena also made sure the students had some time to visit many of the sites, including the Washington Monument, a performance at the Kennedy Center for the Arts, and Arlington National Cemetery.

“I think it is important for all of us to understand the price of freedom,” Camarena said. “Plus, I knew that some of these students might not get another chance to visit Washington.”

Both Medina said Shoen said the trip was life altering and life affirming.

“I don’t think Washington would have ever been on my list, but now I would take my family,” said Medina, who was undocumented until 2005 when she became a naturalized U.S. citizen. “It’s the capital of our country and you can live the history that is there.”

Camarena hopes that while this was the first group to travel to Washington D.C. for the HACU Capitol Forum, it will not be the last. It cost about $15,000 to send the students. The Student Associated Council, President’s Office, Office of Instruction and the SCC Foundation all contributed to the cause.

“If we are able to find a sustainable pot of money, then we can do it again,” Camarena said. “I’d like to see it continue.”

(Pictured from left are Jose Quezada, Rose Schoen, Mario Garcia, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento), Professor Sandra Camarena, and Maria Medina. Taken in Rep. Matsui’s office in Washington, D.C.)