Day at the Capitol inspires political involvement

Fifteen Oles put on their best suits and made their way to St. Paul to participate in the annual Day at the Capitol event on Wednesday, Feb. 27. A program run through the Minnesota Private College Council, Day at the Capitol offers students a chance to learn how to lobby their legislators.

“Specifically, we go to the Capitol to voice our support for the Minnesota State Grant Program, which helps around 90,000 students across the state pay for college,” Political Awareness Committee PAC Coordinator Kevin George ’13 said.

The proposed budget of the grant would be able to help more students in the program than in the past.

“The governor has proposed an $80 million increase in funding to the grant program, by far the largest single increase in its history,” George said. “This would open up opportunities to expand the program, helping students whose families have slightly higher incomes, as well as including non-traditional students.”

The Minnesota State Grant program currently assists nearly 500 St. Olaf students as a part of their financial aid. “We were allotted $1.4 million in state assistance, freeing up that money to be used toward other scholarships or other academic investments,” George said. “Additionally, because the money doesn’t have to be paid back, it really can make a difference in many students’ ability to pay for school.”

The day consisted of training sessions about how to properly lobby, informational lectures about the Minnesota State Grant Program and meetings with representatives and senators from the students’ respective districts. In addition, attendees wrote literature in support of the Minnesota State Grant Program to be given to government officials, including Gov. Dayton.

Alyssa Berg ’15 chose to attend Day at the Capitol because she is interested in learning more about the legislative process, especially on the local level.

“I had a very good experience,” Berg said. “I am always amazed by the ease of access to our representatives and senators. It’s great you can go to their office and state your opinion on a given issue.” Berg met with Kathy Brynaert, her district representative, taking the opportunity to discuss the Minnesota State Grant Program.

“[Kathy Brynaert] was very receptive to what I had to say and was willing to engage in a discussion about the topic,” Berg said. Other students encountered state lawmakers that were not in support of the program, exposing them to different points of view on the issue.

“My representative said he was not in support of the program because of the potential tax increase,” Alec Paulson ’16 said. “But, it was still a great experience to learn how to lobby, especially being at the State Capitol.”

Overall, the 15 Oles returned to campus well-informed after a successful, politically engaging day at the Capitol.

“I’d say the day was a success,” George said. “Most of the students were able to meet with their legislators as scheduled, and most found support for the program. There will always be naysayers, but the program generally receives bipartisan support in the legislature, and we saw that play out while we were there.”

Not only did Oles get to offer their support on an issue that impacts many of their fellow students, but they also gained field experience that will be beneficial in the future. “Learning how to approach your legislators is an important skill in making your voice heard now and later in life, and that’s something this day teaches,” George said.

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