April 1 2017

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The first time Emily Severson went to the Minnesota State Capitol to advocate for the State Grant program, she didn’t know much about state government. Severson is a senior communications major at Gustavus Adolphus College and has been advocating for the State Grant for three years.

“I didn’t know the difference between a senator and representative,” Emily said. “Two years later Gustavus asked me to help plan our Day at the Capitol. Going and advocating for the State Grant has really shaped the classes I’ve taken and what I’m looking for after college.  I’m convinced that at some point I will serve in the political world.”

The State Grant program provides need-based aid to Minnesota college students studying in Minnesota. This year over 240 students from 12 colleges, including Emily Severson and her group from Gustavus, went to the Capitol to advocate for increased State Grant funding. The State Grant benefits almost 83,000 students, who attend both public and private colleges, go to school full- and part-time and earn associates degrees and bachelor’s degrees.

The State Grant isn’t the only issue students are passionate about.  Jessica Toft, associate professor of social work at the St. Catherine University - University of St. Thomas School of Social Work, helps coordinate the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Social Work’s Day at the Capitol. The event brings 1,000 students and social workers to the Capitol to advocate. 

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While at the Capitol, these social work students get the chance to meet with legislators, watch a vote on the floor and learn how state government affects them.

“Student advocacy helps students create a conceptual map from larger systems of policy directly to their work, which helps them see the importance of both,” Toft said. “Also, a major part of advocacy is reaching out to legislators — this experience of connecting with people in authority is empowering.”

Students are also making their voice heard around college access. Marq Moore, a junior at Augsburg College, advocated for College Possible at the state Capitol. College Possible is a college access program that helps students get into college and be successful while in college. Moore took the opportunity to talk about on the quality of the program and the difference College Possible is making —while learning about himself along the way.

“Before going to the Capitol, I was really nervous but when I got there I realized my voice was powerful,” Moore said. “It helped me realize I do have a voice — it helped me find my identity.”

By Tom Lancaster