Advocacy Day a win-win event
It's been a four-hour drive, and the excitement is at a peak. All the hard work and preparation is about to be put into action. As the bus pulls up to a Richmond hotel, final reminders are given before dozens of students step off—some looking around wide-eyed, others quietly confident.
On a crisp, clear day in January, the students are participating in Radford University Advocacy Day 2013 at the General Assembly in Richmond. Sponsored by the Student Government Association (SGA), the trip provides an opportunity for about 40 young women and men to share information about RU while learning the legislative process.
The students are divided into small groups, and appointments are made with the group members' delegates and senators. Each group is accompanied by a member of the RU Board of Visitors or RU staff.
"It is so refreshing to have young people to come to my office," said Senator Phillip Puckett. "They are so eager to tell their story. The stories are uniquely different but often have a common thread. There is no question to the benefit to the university."
In addition to small-group sessions, the students meet with leadership in the General Assembly to gain a different perspective on how Virginia's government operates.
"Having students from Radford University visit the General Assembly is a wonderful opportunity for both students and legislators," House Speaker William Howell said. "We make a lot of decisions in Richmond that will have an impact on their future, and I think it's important that they are involved as much as possible. I look forward to visiting with more students in the future."
Current SGA President Zach McCoy ‘14 has made the trip three times. Starting his freshman year, he saw the trip as an educational opportunity. "It really provided me a sense of pride for RU," McCoy said. A political science major, he believes talking with legislators has helped him focus on his career goals.
The months leading up to the trip are important too. There is an application process and, once the students are chosen, several training sessions. "The preparation is important," McCoy said. "The more research we can do beforehand, the more confident we are in the delivery of our message."
Advocacy Day has other benefits for the students. "The students see the priorities of the university in the context of competing interests," said Margaret Hrezo, chair of RU's Department of Political Science. "It also helps them think on their feet, build collaborative relationships with fellow students and work cooperatively with administration and the Board of Visitors."
"Advocacy Day was among my favorite experiences at RU," said Martin Mash '07, a second-year law student at the University of Virginia. "In addition to being able to work closely with stakeholders from across the university community, Advocacy Day was one of my first experiences working with the General Assembly. Many years later, having worked for the U.S. Senate, I see much more clearly how important Advocacy Day was in helping to spark my interest in public service."
Stephen A. Musselwhite of Vinton, a former rector of the RU Board of Visitors, reflected on the significance of Advocacy Day, not only for the students but also for those who counsel and mentor them.
"Of all the things I did while on the board," he said, "I miss this the most. It truly puts a spotlight on our students, who are second to none."