Armed with maps, contact lists, and tons of George Mason University spirit, a busload of Mason students, faculty, staff, and alumni descended on the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond on February 7 to meet with Virginia legislators.
The group of approximately 80 Mason representatives shared the story of the university and expressed gratitude to the legislators for all the work they do. In addition, the group was introduced to both the House and Senate chambers, met Mason alumni who work at the Capitol, and had a group photo taken with Virginia governor Bob McDonnell.
Plans for Mason Lobbies began in mid-September with Student Government hoping about 25 to 30 people would sign up. By November, the number had shot up to 58—43 students and 15 alumni.
Because of the students’ enthusiasm, the event found further support from the Office of State Government and Community Relations, the Office of Alumni Affairs, the Graduate and Professional Student Association, and members of the Faculty and Staff Senates, says junior Savannah Edwards, a government and international politics major.
“I was looking forward to seeing how it works and talking with senators,” says junior Alexandria Murru, a communication major, about her reason for going. “I’ve never been to Richmond, and I think it’s really important to support the school that I love.”
Before they headed to Richmond, students were required to attend training. Virginia 21, a higher education lobbying group, used Skype to go over with the students what to expect, what to wear, the day’s schedule, and pointers on how to speak with delegates and senators.
“It was really cool to hear about lobbying from people who live it day-to-day,” says senior Alex Williams, president of Student Government. “We all know in the professions we work in there is how you learn to do it and how you do it. They were able to speak to lots of little things, and though little, they were very important.”
For most of the students, it was their first time lobbying and visiting the Capitol building. Even at 6:15 a.m., when the bus left Fairfax for Richmond, students were excited.
“The minute we walked up to the Capitol building, it was lit up and everyone was really excited. I don’t think anyone gets over meeting legislators and people who can make a big difference. Everyone who went cared about being there,” says Stan Heaney, a senior majoring in government and international politics.
The day began with an orientation and speeches by Mason president Ángel Cabrera, Virginia secretary of education Laura Fornash, the governor’s deputy chief of staff and counselor Matt Conrad, JD ’05, and Mason state government relations director Betty Jolly. Mason alumni and Delegates David Ramadan, BA Government and International Politics ’93, MA International Transactions ’95 (87th district), and Michael Webert, BA Communication ’10 (18th district), also addressed the group.
During the lobbying portion of the day, participants were divided into groups based on region and met with delegates, legislative aides, or administrative assistants—many of whom are Mason alumni. As their meetings ended, the participants provided information that explained the value of Mason’s graduates and a graph showing Mason’s in-state tuition compared with that of other Virginia schools.
“The most exciting part was how much everyone cared,” says Murru. “I had no idea that so many people cared about Mason, and many of them sat with us and told us stories of how our school has grown.”
As an alumnus and someone who has made lobbying his career, Ted Burnes, BA Government and Politics ’96 and Alumni Association vice president for advocacy, was excited to see the initiative come to fruition in a collaborative way.
“I was very impressed with not just the enthusiasm and pride the students had to represent Mason, but also their poise and how well they articulated their story,” says Burnes. “This is something that none of them had ever done in the past, but as someone who actually lobbies as a job, I was really pleased with how well they did.”
Students were thrilled that Governor McDonnell stopped to chat with them after the group photo was taken.
“Meeting the governor was completely different from what I expected—he actually came up and talked to us and asked how our day was going. I was so proud of being a Mason student at that moment,” says junior Samantha Wettasinghe, an information technology major and chief of staff for Student Government.
Next, the group headed into the Capitol building, where President Cabrera, Williams, and Jordan Foster, junior government and international politics major and Student Government vice president, were introduced—Williams to the Senate and Foster to the House.
Afterward, the Mason group shared lunch, which was provided by the Alumni Association.
“Present and former students sharing their appreciation of Mason and public funding that supports it–doesn’t get any better for a legislator,” says Jolly. “Lobby Day was all about supporting Mason in that very targeted way, and it could not have gone better. Excellent group, excellent training, excellent day.”
“The actual day was a phenomenal success,” says Williams. “At its most basic core, it was the Mason community demonstrating a presence in Richmond like it never has before.”