Yesterday, as part of the annual Hokie Day, 108 Virginia Tech students traveled to Richmond to lobby to state legislators on issues that are important to Virginia Tech’s future. These students came from every college at the university and ranged in every year from freshman to graduate student.
The 15-year-old Hokie Day tradition used to be a day for alumni to lobby General Assembly primarily on funding issues, but in the years that students have joined, last year was the first time students outnumbered the alumni.
“All of these students understand the importance of legislative advocacy and are here today to make a difference for the university that they will, someday, be alumni for,” said Tom Tillar, vice president of alumni relations and a member of the Tech class of ’69.
At the towering SunTrust Building, students received talking points from university administrators like Tillar, President Charles W. Steger, and Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer Dwight Shelton. These talking points stressed telling stories about their experiences and what they individually felt was important in higher education.
“Our legislators already understand how important STEM is to the future of our economy on the global scale,” Shelton told students. “We also want them to understand that Virginia Tech graduates more than twice as many STEM graduates each year as any other individual institution of higher education in Virginia. We do more than any of those two combined.”
Among other legislative priorities were increased brain disorder and health sciences research. Some of this funding would assist the Virginia Tech Carillon School of Medicine and Research Institute with future projects.
The research that institutions like Carillion are doing in Roanoke is going to make the next few years very interesting, said Speaker of the House of Delegates William J. Howell (R-28th).
Sen. John Watkins (R-10th) met exclusively with Hokie Day participants and spoke on this issue as well. He is a Tech alumnus and has over thirty years of service in the state government.
“It’s things like this that, someday, will make health care more affordable. We are doing everything we can at our level
to make sure that funding is allocated where it can be used most effectively,” Watkins said.
Erica Wood, a junior international studies major, is the director of governmental affairs for the SGA. Wood helped organize the entire event for the students. She and other students also attended the health and welfare committee meeting with Del. Joseph Yost (R-12th) who represents the area of Virginia that encompasses the university.
“It was very neat to hear their opinions on the issues and ask us what our thoughts were. I could tell that they really valued our opinion and it felt like they enjoyed hearing it too,” Wood said.
Lauren Radzevich, a freshman political science major, had a different perspective than most because she is an out-of-state student, hailing from Pennsylvania.
“Even though I’m not a Virginia resident, I thought it was really important to get down here and help out,” Radzevich said. “Virginia does a great job of giving students reasonably affordable in-state tuition, and I wanted to let them know not only do I appreciate that, but it’s more affordable than my home state as an out-of-state student, too.”
While administrators stressed their appreciation of the additional General Fund support proposed in the Executive Budget, they also expressed the desire for further funding.
“Virginia Tech received the lowest percentage of incremental General Fund support of all four-year institutions in 2012-2013,” Steger told students. “We have the lowest administrative cost of any institution in Virginia, and we are the largest in size. When people talk about waste, they are not talking about Virginia Tech.”
After students concluded their meetings with legislators, they were recognized in both the House and Senate, for their engagement in the process of lobbying to legislators.
“I think the coolest part was seeing so many students engaged and really enjoying the process. Since we meet with legislators from our voting areas, they really do stop and listen to us. They hear our stories,” Wood said. “Hopefully we have done what we can to help Virginia Tech.”
Elizabeth Hooper, Tech’s liason to the general assembly, helped organize the trip.