Advocacy at the Highest Level

When most people go to Washington D.C. they see the sights and enjoy our nation’s history.  They spend time at the Smithsonian museums, the various monuments, and the Capitol Building.  A couple weeks ago, I also visited D.C. but while there, I didn’t just do the typical tourist activities.  Instead, I spent time advocating for policies and funding for something I’m very passionate about: STEM.

The Society of Women Engineers hosts a Capitol Hill trip every year, and as an active SWE member, I attended the trip this March.  For the attendees, SWE provides a day of training on advocating.  This training included information on bills and policies that SWE has issued a view on as well as general information on how to speak to our elected representatives and their staff.

The second day of the trip is when the visits occured.  As an Iowa resident, I was scheduled to meet with Senator Chuck Grassley, Senator Joni Ernst, and Congressman Dave Loebsack’s offices.  I also decided to attend a meeting with the Minnesota SWE members to Tina Smith’s office.

The day of visits kicked off with Tina Smith.  Our group of five individuals (myself and four Minnesota residents) headed to her offices early.  We waited in her office and each added our pins to the map of Minnesota (I put my pin in my hometown).  When our assigned meeting time arrived, we were escorted to a room by a staffer who specialized in infrastructure.  She was the one our meeting would be with.

Our group started with explaining what SWE did, it’s mission, and the specific items we wanted to push or to receive funding for.  We each took turns telling our personal stories and explaining why we were passionate about the topics we were talking about.  For me, I emphasized the neeed for funding for STEM education, especially for rural areas and for elementary school teachers.  I grew up in a very rural part of Minnesota, and I experienced firsthand what a lack of funding means and the opportunities that aren’t available because of it.  I also spoke of the teachers that I’ve met while performing outreach — many of them told me that they were intimidated by teaching math and science topics.  These teachers had not been exposed to how to teach these topics as much as other subjects such as reading, history, etc.

After we each finished with our stories, we had the opportunity to meet Tina Smith herself!  She expressed her gratitude for what the Society of Women Engineers does and agreed to take a picture with us.

Tina Smith Picture

After our meeting with Tina Smith, I split off from the Minnesota ladies and went off to meet with the Iowa representatives.  I met with Chuck Grassley’s office, then Dave Loebsack’s office, and finally Joni Ernst’s office.  Each meeting was similar, I had a chance to meet with a member of each office and explain to them the items that I was passionate about.  I focused on STEM Education, Title IX, and breaking down workplace barriers for women.  At each meeting, I balanced a combination of statistics and personal stories to drive my points home.

At the end of the day, I was truly exhausted but I was also filled with pride.  Having the opportunity to meet with the offices of my elected officials was truly an amazing experience and something I will certainly do again.

I’ve had people ask me how they can get involved with policy advocacy.  My advice to those people is to start at a level that is more accessible.  You can start with your local school board, city council, etc.  You can also meet with your state government representatives.  All of these people are there to represent you and to listen to what you care about.  If you’re set on reaching out to your federal representatives, you can visit their websites and correspond with them via email or set up a time to meet with their offices.

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