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18 Graduate and Professional Students Lobby on Capitol Hill

Cornell graduate and professional students on the steps of U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kristen Adams/Cornell Office of Federal Relations.

Eighteen graduate and professional students traveled from the Ithaca campus and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City to Capitol Hill for Cornell Advocacy Day April 5.

Students met with members of Congress and their staffs to discuss science policy, graduate federal student aid, research funding, and immigration policy (including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). By all accounts the students’ messages were well-received on Capitol Hill.

“I believe Advocacy Day not only provides a well-rounded experience for the students, but is also vital in informing members of Congress and their staff about the importance of these issues to Cornell,” said Kristen Adams, associate director of Cornell’s Office of Federal Relations. “This year we had a great group of students, the highest number of participants, and their stories were told in nearly 40 congressional offices.”

Students visited 38 congressional offices from 12 states, and each student visited representatives of his or her home state.

Sabrina Solouki, a doctoral student in immunology and infectious disease, explained how her research would not be possible without federal funds allocated to individual students and laboratories.

“When I was an incoming graduate student, I had a very stressful time finding a lab that had enough financial support to take on an additional graduate student. Having gone through this uncertain situation firsthand, I realized the tremendous role federal investment in basic and applied research plays,” Solouki said.

Jake Wolf, DVM ’17, met with U.S. Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Charlie Dent, R-Pa. He said it’s valuable for the legislators to be able to “put a face on those who work in the sciences” and explained why graduate and professional student funding is essential to help students achieve their dreams. “As someone who grew up in a lower middle-class family, education was always my way of advancing life,” Wolf said. “Without the lower interest rate offered through graduate student loans, I would not be able to hope to repay my veterinary school loans one day.”

Morgan Carter, a plant pathology doctoral candidate, was “incredibly inspired by my advocacy day experience and will be pursuing more opportunities to engage in advocacy and be an active citizen. It was a great introduction to talking to legislators and learning how to present a position from multiple angles, depending on the priorities of the representative you were pitching to.”

Doctoral students Solouki and Catherine Sun (natural resources), who participated in Advocacy Day, were also selected to attend the American Association for the Advancement of Science Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering Workshop April 2-5 in Washington. They learned more about the structure and organization of Congress, federal budget and appropriations processes, and tools for effective science communication and civic engagement. They met with Cornell alumni Melanie Stansbury, M.S. ’07, a professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Adam Rosenberg ’98, staff director of the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy.

“Melanie and Adam were both extremely generous with their time and insights,” said Sara Xayarath Hernandez, associate dean for inclusion and student engagement in Cornell’s Graduate School. “Having the opportunity to connect with alumni working on the Hill made for an even more meaningful experience.”

Many staff and members of Congress encouraged the students to continue their advocacy.

Kristen Adams is associate director of federal relations. Elizabeth Ellis is director of communications for the Graduate School.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.