Pictured from left: Students Ambica Chaki, Clement Banahene, Laura Lopez-Toro, and Billie Williams
Legislators in Albany, N.Y., recently found themselves face-to-face with high school and college students passionate about making sure educational funding is a top priority on their agendas for next year’s budget. On February 14, 2023, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York (CICU) held its annual Student Advocacy Day, providing an invitation to all recipients of state student aid funding to visit the capitol and let their voices be heard. Key talking points focused on impacts to TAP (Tuition Assistance Program), HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program), STEP/CSTEP (Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program), and Bundy Aid.
New York Tech sent a delegation of six individuals on a one-day trip to participate in this important lobbying exercise. Led by HEOP Director Rachel Morrison (M.S. ’15) and Director of External Affairs Carolina Koutsoyannis, four students embarked on the journey on behalf of the entire campus community. Ambica Chaki (computer science), Clement Banahene (electrical and computer engineering technology), Laura Lopez-Toro (architecture), and Billie Williams (electrical and computer engineering technology) attended meetings with the offices of four different senators and assemblypeople.
The group’s first stop was to see Assemblymember Charles D. Lavine, who represents the district that includes the Long Island campus. Though brief, he assured the students that he understood their concerns and was working hard for them. Next, the group joined students from Molloy University to talk with a staff member for Senator Kevin Thomas. Each took turns telling their personal stories to her and connecting those stories back to CICU’s recommendations, such as a 10 percent increase in opportunity program funding and Bundy Aid.
Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who represents the area, including the New York City campus, was excited to host student visitors to his office but had to depart to participate in a vote; witnessing that showed the students that these are the people who make things happen. They spoke at length with a staff member representing the senator who made the students feel heard and that what they were doing in Albany would have an impact.
HEOP senior Lopez-Toro found herself fantasizing about a future on the Housing committee after the last visit of the day at the office of Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. An internship with the New York City Housing Authority in 2022 inspired her to study public policy. After she graduates, she plans to help improve public housing policy and design in New York.
HEOP student Banahene says, “Sharing our concerns on how important financial aid and other opportunity programs is something to be proud of. We hope our requests will be taken into consideration.” No stranger to representing New York Tech, Clement also participated in virtual Advocacy Day sessions held over Zoom in 2022.
“We got to speak from our perspective. And not only represent ourselves but other students who were not able to go on the trip, who might feel the same way as us,” says Chaki. “We met with the people that make the laws, and I feel they will increase the funding for financial aid and TAP since they heard it themselves from current New York City college students.”
Williams adds that the best lesson he learned on the trip was that “involvement is easier than you think.” One of the goals of Advocacy Day is to show students they have the power to speak directly to policymakers and make change happen. Participating in lobbying is a great way to demystify the political process.
To get involved, start by joining the campaign and telling your story to elected officials.
Next year’s Student Advocacy Day is scheduled for February 13, 2024.
This article was contributed by Rachel Morrison (M.S. ’15), HEOP director.