Friday, September 21st, 2018

Student advocacy program launches

Sam Hill | The Free Press

Posted on April 14, 2015 in News
By Sam Hill

Toward the end of March, students from six of the UMaine system’s seven universities took a trip to Augusta to spend a day at the statehouse.

The visit was the pilot event for a new pilot program being developed at the system level. The goal of the program is to bring student advocates from all UMS campuses together in Augusta to meet government officials, sit in on meetings and talk about issues that college students in the state are facing.

“I think students have been asking for this kind of opportunity for a long time,” said Laura Cyr, a postgraduate fellow in finance and administration, in an interview last month. “Students have been looking to learn about the decision making process, not only at their university but in their state government as well.”

This time around, the hot topic issue is how Governor Paul LePage’s proposed state budget affects Maine’s public universities.

According to a summary of LePage’s 2016-2017 budget, his plan includes a 3.64 percent increase — roughly $14.2 million — for the University of Maine system.

“I think this year, we’re handed an issue on a plate,” said Cyr, “but we’re excited that, in future years, students will be able to bring their own issues to the table.”

Four students attended the trip on March 24, along with students from other campuses. The University of Maine at Machias was the only school that did not send representatives.

Overall, student attendees said the day was a success.

“We’re here to really get an idea of what happens at the statehouse, to be student advocates for the UMS system and to really get our bearings in Augusta,” said Rachel Cormier, a non-traditional student who served on the Metropolitan University Steering Group earlier this year.

Cormier says that spending a day watching legislators work and getting a chance to speak with some of them erased the ‘intimidation factor’ some students might face when it comes to state politics.

“They were very communicative with us on levels that I didn’t expect,” said Cormier. “We have to remember that they’re just people and that we shouldn’t be afraid of reaching out to them.”

John Jackson, a student senator double majoring in political science and business administration, enjoyed his experience as well. Jackson said his interest in the program sparked because of the cuts to faculty and staff that occurred last fall.

“Getting a chance to meet legislatures is important in getting this budget passed,” he said.

Jackson said he has hoped to have more of an opportunity to speak with legislators, specifically those who might be on the fence with their vote on the budget.

“They’re going to be very busy on those days when they’re in sessions, so I know it’s difficult,” he said.

Jackson said he feels the state contribution to UMS funding is on the low-side and that it needs to be changed in order for the university to succeed financially.

“Hearing student voices is very important. Having students show up, especially from all campuses, is worth a lot more than an administrator or faculty member speaking out,” said Jackson.

“I don’t think students need to necessarily join the program with an agenda,” said Cormier, who didn’t mention any specific issues she was looking to address during her trip. “I think it’s better to just speak and get to know your local legislators.”

Cormier says that if students realize they have access to their government officials and learn to speak with them, it will be easier for them to recognize student voices.

“I feel like it’s easy for anyone who doesn’t have regular contact with students to assume we’re all just spoiled, young teens, but that isn’t true,” said Cormier. “A lot of people at USM are a little older and should reach out to legislators to say, I can be a resource, what do you need from me?”

Both Cormier and Jackson aspire to become legislators at some capacity in their future.

“I think this program is only going to open more doors for students,” said Cormier. “I hope that more students are able to go next year.

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