The 40 George Mason University students who traveled to Richmond for Mason Lobbies on Jan. 26 shared their college experience with legislators and highlighted the need for increasing financial aid for Mason students, increased funding per student, and increased staff and faculty salaries for the university to be more competitive in the Washington, D.C., metro area. They also highlighted Mason’s diversity and production of STEM and workforce-ready graduates.
This was the first in-person Mason Lobbies since 2019 due to the COVID pandemic. The joint effort is led by the Office of Student Involvement and the Office of Government and Community Relations. Students were accompanied by Mason President Gregory Washington, Vice President for University Life Rose Pascarell, and members of Mason’s Community and Government Relations team.
“In addition to the policy positions Mason focuses on throughout the year, students brought their own anecdotes and experiences which drove those points home to legislators,” said Lauren Posey, associate director of state government relations at Mason.
Paul J. Wyche, a sophomore cybersecurity engineering major and speaker of Mason’s 43rd Student Senate, helped plan the day. “Our goal was not only to make legislators aware of the lack of funding Mason receives in comparison to similarly sized institutions but also get them energized and passionate about changing this,” he said.
Following the spirited welcome, students split up into groups and made their way to lawmakers’ offices.
Students met with Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera and Mason alumni Delegate Charniele Herring, BA Economics ’93, and Senator Jeremy S. McPike, BA Public Administration ’97, MPA ’06.
“Get engaged in the political process now,” McPike told the students. “Everything we, as legislators, do touches your lives. Policy, regulations, and education it’s all intertwined.”
Michele Adjei-Fah, a senior biology major who plans to attend medical school, said Mason Lobbies is a unique opportunity for students to use their voices to improve Mason. “It’s important for students to highlight their concerns and ensure Mason receives the support it needs from the state. Being able to address concerns directly to legislators is empowering.”
For freshman government and international politics major Gabriella Grabovska, a native of Ukraine, Mason Lobbies was a front-row seat to American democracy. “It was a great experience for students to look inside how government really works and how decisions are made, while legislators learned more about Mason. Hopefully, they will offer more support for our institution.”
“Legislators are just like us,” Wyche added. “They may seem like intimidating individuals who don’t have time to hear your concerns, but that’s certainly not the case. Most of them enjoy hearing from people, even if they aren’t their direct constituents.”
Delegate Michelle Maldonado said events like Mason Lobbies are valuable for legislators because they hear diverse perspectives that help them make better decisions. “No one group should be burdened with changing society. It’s all of our responsibility to make society better. Listening to diverse groups of people helps us to make better decisions.”
She encouraged students to believe in themselves. “You have all that you need to succeed,” she said “Surround yourself with people who will bring out your skills and talents. There are more people that want you to succeed than fail.”
Posey echoed Maldonado’s assessment.
“The students were professional, organized, and effective,” Posey said. I know we’re all going to be in good hands with this next generation of leaders and advocates.”