Day at the Capitol gets students involved

Jackie Bussjaeger, Editor in Chief

Imagine that one third of your friends have suddenly vanished from your life. Classrooms would suddenly feel much roomier, and the cafeteria would seem much quieter. Roughly one third of your classmates are here at Hamline partially thanks to funding from the Minnesota State Grant program.

Day at the Capitol is an annual event that enables students from private colleges to visit state legislators to emphasize the need for the State Grant funding. Led by Director of Student Activities Wendy Burns, this year’s Hamline group boarded a bus, unloaded at the Minnesota Department of Transportation office in Downtown St. Paul, and spent the morning learning about the benefits of the grant program from Dennis Egan, a representative from the Minnesota Private College Council. Students were asked to encourage legislators to support college affordability and expand the funding given to students in financial need.

“The most important part is that students are able to give state legislators their personal stories,” Burns said. “They probably always have facts and figures coming out of their ears, but hearing stories from multiple students has to have an impact.”

Last year, the average State Grant award given to students at Hamline was $4,259, and the total sum exceeded $3.7 million. Students are eligible for the grant if they come from low- and middle-income families, and they can choose to apply their grant at any Minnesota college or university. Through events like Day at the Capitol, the Minnesota Private Colleges Council aims to raise the statewide tuition cap, specify how the grant should address living costs and provide eligibility to more middle-income students.

According to Burns, there are approximately 855 students at Hamline who currently receive funding from the grant. The Day at the Capitol allows students, recipients of the grant or not, to talk to state legislators and emphasize how important the funding is for students at private colleges.

“Some people think you’re rich just because you go to a private college, and that is not the case,” said Jenna Nestburg (‘18), one of the attendees.

Before leaving, the students wrote personal handwritten notes to several government officials with whom they were not able to meet, including Governor Mark Dayton.

“I think it will never hurt for a state legislator to hear a personal story, especially from someone they represent,” Burns said.

Each student was scheduled for a 10-15 minute interview with a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives in the State Office building. Due to construction on the Capitol building, most students were not able to meet with members of the State Senate as they have done in the past.

“They’re people just like us, and when they see our faces, when we meet them, we know we don’t have to be afraid,” said first-year Marie “Carola” Schneider. “Some people are afraid to speak to people in power, but anybody’s good enough.”

Students from Bethel, St. Kate’s, and St. Ben’s also visited with legislators last Thursday, though all of Minnesota’s private colleges usually attend at some time or another over a period of weeks in the spring.

Burns explained that Day at the Capitol is an opportunity for students to get involved with the community in a meaningful way, and it also helps to build interpersonal skills. She encourages anyone who is interested in the event to contact her for more information.

“Imagine this campus if a third of the people were gone,” Burns said. “What voices would be gone from this community?”