Students in New Course Advocate, Testify for Legislation in Annapolis
As a high school student, Sarah Ronayne spent two weeks as a page in the Maryland General Assembly, bustling in a gray uniform blazer to pick up coffee and hand out papers while delegates and senators debated and voted.
Now the sophomore government and politics major is getting a different view of how state government functions—one from the ground up, rather than the top down, as part of a new University of Maryland course that puts students in the role of grassroots legislative proponents.
“It’s nice to see the nitty-gritty advocacy side,” Ronayne said. At the State House, “you kind of lose sight of the difficulty and the work behind it.”
In the seminar, “Civic Engagement in Action: Citizens and Policy Advocacy,” Associate Professor Stella Rouse split students into teams to choose, study and advocate for specific bills now under consideration in Annapolis.
“We have allowed civic education to take a back seat. It’s really important to bring that back,” said Rouse, who is also director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement. “The health of our democracy is dependent on civic involvement.”
The class recently went to the State House to meet with legislators and watch the House, Senate and committees in action. The groups—who are taking on bills ranging from legalizing sports gambling to an overhaul of K-12 public education funding—are working on committee testimony, fact sheets and short “elevator pitches” that could help in brief meetings with politicians.
Whether a bill passes, of course, will not determine a student’s grade, Rouse said.
“I do want them to learn the realities of policymaking,” she said. “Failure is a big part of it. You have to be persistent.”
Yoslin Amaya, a junior majoring in government and politics, plans to testify today with several classmates in favor of a bill that would create greater reporting requirements for public colleges when they deny transfer credits. Amaya, who is also an intern with Del. Jared Solomon of Montgomery County, wasn’t able to transfer all of her credits from Montgomery College last year and is excited to be part of an effort that could help students like her.
“It’s been really great just learning how to fully advocate for issues that are personal to me,” Amaya said.
Story by Liam Farrell and illustration by Jason Keisling; this item originally appeared in Maryland Today.