A program spanning University of California campuses launching this year aims to strengthen student involvement in higher education advocacy.
The UC Advocacy Network is accepting applications until Jan. 28 for its first student ambassador program. Students in the program will serve from Feb. 1 to May 30, and will help the UC recruit more students to participate in its lobbying efforts, said Meredith Turner, associate director of legislative advocacy and institutional relations at the UC Office of the President.
UCAN is a group of UC students, faculty, alumni and other members of the UC community that advocates for policies that support the University, such as increased education and research funding. It currently operates on a digital platform that connects advocates to other community leaders and state legislators through email and phone calls.
Turner said she thinks students are the best advocates for the University because they are directly impacted by tuition hikes, research funds and health care initiatives. She added she thinks few students are currently involved in legislative advocacy.
“Students are instrumental, and we want more students to tell their stories and change budgets and policies for the better,” she said.
Student ambassadors will plan special events and connect students with their campus’ government relations director to work on issues that directly impact their campus, Turner said.
The ambassadors will also work directly with the UC Legislative Advocacy and Institutional Relations department to understand how legislation and the state budget impacts the UC system, said Rafi Sands, student advisor to the UC Board of Regents, who helped create the program.
Sands said the program aims to provide students lobbying opportunities, give them a chance to meet with lawmakers and speak in public hearings about legislative topics. He added he thinks the ambassadors will be able to encourage more students to join UCAN.
“Students know best how to reach students – it is in their hands to expand student enrollment (in UCAN),” he said.
Sands said he and Turner will also hold meetings with ambassadors every two weeks to provide advice on how they can advocate for higher education issues.
Turner said UCAN ambassadors will prioritize advocating for issues that affect the UC system, such as increasing state funding in education and increasing graduate student enrollment.
For example, Turner said advocates will call on the state legislature to increase funding to higher education by 4 percent, as opposed to the 3 percent that Gov. Jerry Brown included in his 2018-2019 state budget proposal.
Students in the program will also fly to Sacramento and meet state legislators in person.
“Ambassadors work directly with people who decide what bills to support and how to advocate for them as an institution,” Sands said.
Victoria Solkovits, a second-year political science and human biology and society student and Sands’ chief of staff, said she thinks students can effectively lobby legislators to support student interests if they advocate together.
“It’s a united front going to the state capitol instead of fragmented voices, which makes legislators more likely to cooperate,” she said.
Turner said she hopes to expand the program to the full academic year, and to the next year if students feel it is successful.