On February 6th and 7th, students and mentors of First2 Network were given the amazing opportunity to travel to Charleston, West Virginia to interact with legislators on behalf of the network. Our team was able to speak to individual legislators and also had the opportunity to attend both the Senate and House sessions. In addition, we held a reception for legislators in both chambers and we made presentations about our work to both the House and Senate Education Committee.
A special thank you should be given to the legislators who went the extra mile to show interest in increasing retention rates in STEM for WV students who are under-represented and first in their family to go to college.
We’d like to first thank Delegate Hornbuckle and Delegate Thompson, who helped arrange our reception and introduced us to the new leadership on House Education. House Education committee co-chair Delegate Higginbotham gave us a warm welcome during our presentation in front of the House Education Committee and a kind introduction during a House meeting as well. He was generally intrigued by our work and had a plethora of questions to ask regarding math education in West Virginia and First2 as a whole. Along with those First2 members in attendance, we held a riveting discussion about the future of mathematics and science in K-12 in West Virginia, specifically about the conversion to teaching only metric in our schools. During this meeting, Delegate Thompson and Delegate Cooper asked great questions. Delegate Thompson was kind enough to give us a warm introduction on the House floor.
Dale Lee is the president of the West Virginia Education Association who worked for 22 years as a science teacher at Princeton Senior High School. Dale visited our reception and gave advice about how to be successful lobbyists for our cause.
First2 would also like to thank Senator Rucker for continuously being a First2 friend and advocate. She has welcomed us in the Capitol multiple times now and truly cares about our cause. During this legislative visit, we sadly weren’t able to get a lot of one-on-one time with her, but she still made time out of her day to drop by our reception and ensure a photograph with us all. We’d also like to thank Senator Takubo, Senator Baldwin, Senator Unger, Senator Mann, Delegate Caputo, Delegate Evans, Delegate Hamrick, Delegate Hartman, Delegate Cowles and Senator Romano, who took time to talk with us about our work and the problems we’d like to solve. Delegate Caputo plans to visit one of our labs and try his hand at research! Delegate Hamrick has volunteered some of his services as a graphic designer to our network. Senator Baldwin and Senate Majority Leader Takubo encouraged us to stay in touch and follow up with suggestions for how our legislative friends can be helpful. We are so grateful.
Overall, students in attendance were greatly impacted by this experience and are all very grateful for the time and attention given to us by our own state legislature. In my personal opinion, I truthfully felt like I was able to make an impact because so many important decisions are made at the legislative level. Because politicians are very busy, it is hard for them to interact with constituents one-on-one to gain perspective. Through First2, we were able to educate our own legislators on the issues we see and face day to day in our education system.
A’mya Walker from WVSU reported that “going to the Capitol made me feel POWERFUL and important. It was an amazing opportunity to get to talk to ‘higher-ups’ that handle decisions about our state”. Ethan Endres and Alisha Joseph, both from Marshall University, agreed that it was a wonderful experience to bring the good news of First2 to our state legislature. “While this trip and process was nerve-wracking for some, it allowed us to use our professional skills many of us didn’t know we had; this was a networking opportunity that students our age hardly get, yet is so important for the change we need.” Lydia Peterson, a student from Marshall University, said that the entire experience was extremely fun and a “great opportunity to meet the people that represent us and tell them what’s important to us as first-generation students and why”.
Erica Harvey–a PI on the grant–was also there speaking alongside students. After the fact, she felt “impressed by the articulate, genuine way the students spoke about their own experiences and about First2 Network.” Erica also feels grateful for the presence of Sarah Riley and Joanna Burt-Kinderman, as they bent over backwards during our time in Charleston to “help us all learn our way around the legislature and the political process and encouraging us to get to know our elected representatives”. A big thank you is also given from the students to Erica, Sarah, Joanna, Sue Ann, and Samantha for attending this legislative visit with us and supporting us throughout every step. They feel so strongly about the first-generation student perspective and always yearn to lift us up.
Being first-generation and underrepresented in STEM means something different to every single one of the students involved in First2. We often face the same struggles, but each of our stories is different. It is one thing to lay out educational statistics in front of a governing body to make decisions about, but it is so much more powerful to meet them one-on-one and tell your story firsthand. Shannon Knowlton, a student from Fairmont State University, said that during this experience she felt “the power the network had and what each of us could do to change the future. The amazing part was being able to feel the UNSTOPPABLE FORCE of the network working together as one”.