For some University students, Spring Break is a vacation from the stresses of college life, but for ten UHD students, it was an opportunity to visit the nation’s capital and to promote Hispanic-serving colleges and universities to Congress.
Out of a group of 30 students, David Duran, Aimee Soto-Garcia, Ignasio Hernandez, Kelly Kruzman, Lilibeth Martinez, Nallay MN, Chase Otts, Naiyolis Palomo, Barbara Garcia-Powell and Ana Robledo, were selected to participate in the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities’ (HACU) 21st Annual Capitol Forum on Higher Education, March 14-15. Dr. Patrick Jefferson, dean of students and assistant vice president for student success, arranged for the students to participate in the experience.
UHD’s students comprised the largest group from the nation’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI). After a day of sessions on the issues facing HSIs, many attendees visited the congressional and senate offices from their home states, to share HSIs’ needs and concerns with their elected representatives. UHD students, along with other HACU members from Texas, visited the offices of Congressmen Ruben Hinojosa, Lamar Smith, Lloyd Doggett and Joaquin Castro. They also visited with staff members from Senator Ted Cruz’s office.
Another UHD student, Itzayana Lopez-Prestegui, who is currently serving in Washington, DC, as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute intern in Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s office, arranged for UHD students to visit Representative Jackson Lee’s office for photographs.
Students found the experience in advocating for the needs of HSIs rewarding.
Lilibeth Martinez said, “The Washington trip was a very informative experience. It also allowed students to see how hard and the passionate the faculty have to be to assure that universities are funded and ensure the success of their students.”
UHD Honors Program student, and LULAC member Ignasio Hernandez said, “I never thought I would have an experience like this in my life. With the advocacy forum held by HACU, I was able to learn about funding for HSIs, how much is needed, how much they are actually getting, and requirements teachers should have. It was an opportunity I hope many UHD Gators in the future are able to have as well.”
Naiyolis Palomo, member of SGA (Student Government Association), said the visits to Capitol Hill were rewarding. “Not only did we get to learn more about critical issues affecting Hispanic serving institutions, like UHD, but we also had an opportunity to meet members of congress and express our concerns about these issues. It was a surreal experience that empowered me to believe in myself and my ability to advocate for other issues I’m passionate about.”
Other students agreed. Several comments suggest the students found the opportunity a high-impact experience.
Student David Duran reflected, “UHD has once again given its students an opportunity to go beyond the school and learn about and advocate for the appropriation of Hispanic and minority serving schools.”
Kelly Kruzman said, “This was definitely something that was out of my comfort zone and a bit scary, but I have gained so much insight because of this trip.”
Ana Robledo agreed that it was also a new experience for her, and saw the rewards in meeting the new challenge. “Not being very political and lacking experience in advocating, applying for this opportunity and being accepted was exciting. I felt honored to represent UHD at such an important event. I embarked on this journey with strangers and ended up with friends.”
The students were accompanied by Dr. Paul Mandell, assistant professor of Spanish, and Dr. Gene Preuss, associate professor of History.
Dr. Mandell was pleased to help the students experience democracy in a way that the majority of residents in the U.S. never have the chance to do. He said, “Going to Washington, D.C. and Capitol Hill, and visiting the offices of our elected officials to share concerns and experiences is something very few U.S. citizens ever do. This is even more important in this, a major election year. It was a powerful thing to see how well our students represented UHD.”
Dr. Preuss said, “It’s one thing to have administrators come and tell lawmakers how important their schools are. It’s much more powerful to bring students who can share first-hand how important it is to invest in higher education. The people on Capitol Hill can actually see in those students — their constituents — how meaningful their vote on important legislation really is. I’m thankful that Dr. Jefferson and Dr. Mandell helped make this possible.”