Student advocates visit Capitol Hill

Four Cochise College students just returned from Washington, D.C. where they attended the National Capitol Forum and met with members of Congress and Senate to support and advocate for higher education.

Each spring, student advocates for higher education are chosen to represent colleges around the country and to represent the nation’s youngest and largest ethnic population. Representatives gather in Washington, D.C., where they help shape and promote an agenda for Congress

This year, students were chosen by the Hispanic Serving Institution Committee (HSI) at Cochise College to represent Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) at the National Capitol Forum. HACU is an organization dedicated to supporting the large population of Hispanic students in America. The Cochise College HSI Committee chose representatives from Cochise County, students who are dealing with the ever changing circumstances for Mexican-American students.

The student advocates who were chosen to attend the Forum were Luis Dominguez, Maria Diaz, Caleb Torres and Natalia Alonso. Dominguez is a general studies major and Diaz is in college for administration of justice, while Torres and Alonso are both nursing students.

“I saw a post right outside of my classroom that was talking about the trip [to Washington, D.C.],” said Alonso. “I started reading about it and the poster said, ‘Do you want to advocate for your community?’ That’s one of the things that I really like to do, is think about others for a moment; to think that what you do is going to be able to help somebody else’s life.”

Norma Brandenburg, a member of the HSI Committee and Academic and Career Advisor at the Cochise College Douglas Campus also attended the Forum.

To prepare for the Forum, students conducted research and released a survey on the Cochise College Douglas Campus about issues that are affecting students and their community.

Once they were at the Forum, located on Capitol Hill, students were able to recommend a particular cause or policy to key members of the House and Senate and discuss issues and solutions that would benefit the community. Topics were broad in subject but crucial to the success of higher education, including hot topics like the IRS retrieval tool, which is a resource on the Federal Student Aid website that allows students to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the Federal Student Aid Application.

 The IRS retrieval tool went down last year for one month, making it difficult for students to meet deadlines and ultimately preventing some students from attending college. Another issue that they discussed was the Summer Crossover Pell Grant, which now allows students to request funds for summer semesters.

“I informed the students to not focus on the numbers or the statistics,” said Brandenburg. “Instead they should focus on the issues that are affecting them personally and their fellow students. They should talk about their personal experiences because when you give that human side to a story to our leaders in Washington, D.C., that is when they see what matters the most.”

“The senators were very pressed for time,” said Torres when talking about his time in Washington. “One topic that I was asked to do research on was access to health care in Cochise County. I wasn’t able to say anything on it because we had so many topics to discuss and only so much time.”

Established in 1986 as the first organization committed to the success of Hispanics in higher education, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Leaders of HACU member and partner colleges and universities join public policymakers, key federal agency leaders, allied organizations, corporate, community and philanthropic representatives at what has become a powerful national platform for winning public- and private-sector support for Hispanic higher education.

HACU began with 18 founding member institutions and has grown to include 412 colleges and universities from across the country, in addition to several international chapters. Although HACU member schools in the U.S. represent only 10 percent of all higher education institutions nationwide, together they attract more than two-thirds of all Hispanic college students.

All Cochise College students who attended the Forum agreed that advocating for their hometown was a great privilege and all hope to continue to bring awareness of issues that promote change to Cochise County.