Eastern Students meet with State Legislators for Hands-on Advocacy Experience for Higher Education Grant Funding

Three Eastern students headed to Harrisburg for the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP) Day on the Hill event to campaign for higher education funding.

This past April, I had the chance to travel to the state capital in Harrisburg, PA to meet with Pennsylvania State Representatives, alongside two other Eastern students, Hannah Bonanducci, ‘26, and Makenna Miller ’24. Our mission was to mobilize and convince these influential lawmakers of the value of providing grant funding to Pennsylvania university students attending private institutions, particularly through the Pennsylvania State Grant (PHEAA), which serves low-income families, as well as the PA Ready to Succeed Scholarship.

As we approached the towering steps of the monumental white building, framed with large statues and flooded with people, my heart began to race. There was so much history here, so many powerful individuals had walked in through those same doors. I attempted to collect my thoughts over the clicking of heels on granite and shuddering of camera lenses at a nearby press conference. We were there for one reason: to be advocates for a cause we believe in. 

Questions and doubts flooded my mind as I entered the main room and saw dozens of organizations there for the same reasons we were, to campaign on behalf of their various beliefs and passions, all of which are incredibly important. How would I make higher education funding stand out against statewide hunger and easier access to childcare?

As we conversed with Ashe Prawl, Deputy Legislative Director for Senator Amanda Cappelletti, and Representatives Regina Young ‘11 (an Eastern grad!), Lisa Borowski, Leanna Krueger ‘03 (another EU grad), and Stephen Kinsey ’02 (an MBA grad), I began to find my voice. The influential lawmakers truly listened to what we had to say and genuinely cared about our opinions. We used the time we had with them wisely, aiming to ignite a passion for change within each one of them. 

One factor we did not account for was that the majority of the Representatives we spoke with were graduates of Eastern or another private institution and already believed in the cause we were advocating for. We learned an incredibly important lesson about thoroughly researching those we are approaching and bringing our thought-provoking arguments to Representatives who are not already supporting the cause we are fighting for. This is how real change will be made.

However, the day was certainly not a waste. Representative and Eastern alumna Regina Young reminded us, “to continue to ask questions, continue to show up,” she shared. “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” We were able to network and make connections with powerful individuals we may not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet face-to-face. They encouraged us to apply for internships at the Capitol, get involved in politics, and most importantly, never stop advocating for our beliefs. 

“We had a great day in Harrisburg at AICUP Day on the Hill,” shares Jennifer Lowman, Assistant Director of Institutional Support at Eastern, and supervisor of students at Day on the Hill. “The state legislators were all very gracious with their time and advice. And, of course, our Eastern students were incredibly thoughtful and articulate ambassadors for the university.”

I learned that even powerful lawmakers are human, just like the rest of us; they are real people with stories and feelings that influence their decision-making. They are chosen by the people to collectively represent us, and although they are the ones voting, we have the true power in numbers and advocacy. At the AICUP event, we learned that our Representatives want to hear from people like us so they can better represent us. Reaching out to your Representatives through email or phone to share your thoughts is critical to our success as a state. 

We learned valuable lessons on The Hill that day. We articulated arguments, projected confidence, and made our voices heard. No matter what issue you are championing, or whether you are standing alone or with a crowd, the most important thing is to use your voice and show up for what you believe in. If my experience in Harrisburg solidified one thing, it is that my voice matters and I will continue to use it to create change in the world around me.