Graduate students lobby with coalition in Washington

When U-M graduate student Adam Cole traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of graduate education, he was nervous.

But after taking part in a training session and meeting with Cindy Bank, assistant director of the university's Washington, D.C., Office, he welcomed the experience.
University students Eric Majchrzak, Robert Wilson, Adam Cole and Cherisse Loucks visit the U-M Washington, D.C., Office. (Photo courtesy Adam Cole)

Cole and three other students made the trip as part of a lobbying action organized by a new national coalition called Student Advocates for Graduate Education (SAGE), which seeks to advance the quality of life, quality of education, access and affordability of graduate schools at public universities.

"The students were great," Bank says. "They had such enthusiasm." Most powerful, she says, was hearing students tell their own stories. "That makes it much more real," she says. "Each had such a good story to tell."

The U-M students joined a group of SAGE members from several other national universities to lobby as a coalition, taking turns speaking with legislators about the challenges they face, lack of funding and hardships endured while pursuing higher education degrees.

Cole, president of Rackham Student Government (RSG) and doctoral student in pharmaceutical sciences, says the students met with several legislators to discuss student debt load and taxability of fellowships. He was joined by RSG representatives Eric Majchrzak, master's student in chemistry; Cherisse Loucks, doctoral student in biological chemistry; and Robert Wilson, doctoral student in applied physics.

"It was awesome. I had never done anything like this before," Cole says. "Capitol Hill is intimidating at first, even as a tourist."

The students spent three days in Washington, D.C. After going through a training session, they met with various lobbyists then went to Capitol Hill to lobby for graduate education.

They met with staff in the offices of several Michigan legislators, including Rep. Sander Levin, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Sen. Carl Levin, Rep. John Dingell and Rep. Mike Rogers.

Cole considers the activity "an overwhelming success."

"We accomplished much more than we thought we would," he says.

Bank says she is excited about SAGE and its potential to affect change.

"It's important to know that in a representative form of government, anyone can go in and talk about issues important to them," Bank says. "I look forward to working with the students as the SAGE group grows, as they become experienced advocates."