It's That Time Again... Time for Think College Policy Advocates!

It’s that time of year again! Time to apply to be a Think College Policy Advocate (TCPA)! You may be asking yourself: what does that even mean and why should I apply? As a former TCPA team member, I am happy to share.

I am the Director of University of Louisiana at Lafayette LIFE, or UL LIFE, and advocacy is an important part of what we teach and practice on our campus and beyond. Nicholas, a UL LIFE student, approached me last year about applying for the TCPA Program. I immediately said yes! But what do you even do as a Think College Policy Advocate? Teams consisting of a self-advocate (student) and a program staff member spend a few months meeting virtually, learning how to successfully advocate for legislation. These virtual meetings also include working directly with a coach, someone who has experience educating legislators. The coaches are there to guide and support the teams. The program concludes with a trip to Washington DC to participate in in-person trainings and attend meetings on Capitol Hill with our state’s legislators. 

As I said, Nicholas and I were selected and what occurred over the next few months was not only educational, allowing us to both grow in our knowledge of legislation and policy, it also gave us the opportunity to connect with other teams around the country. We learned what was happening in other states and used this information to help us better understand how inclusive postsecondary education was different and alike state to state. It also gave us some great ideas for Louisiana legislation in the future.

Nicholas and I arrived in Washington DC, excited to get started. His love of policy and politicians is no secret, so I knew this was his time to really shine! Over the next three days, we attended a welcome dinner, and participated in trainings with other teams and our coaches. Liz Weintraub spent time working with teams on important things to know when advocating, and as expert in the field, it was so helpful to listen to her experiences and knowledge. We prepared for our meetings in groups and on our own as a team.

We had two days of meeting with legislators and their offices. We were very excited to visit a total of five offices: Senator Bill Cassidy, Senator John Kennedy, Representative Steve Scalise, Representative Julia Letlow, and Representative Garrett Graves. The office staffers we met with were so attentive and interested in learning how their legislator could be supportive in creating more opportunities for people attending and accessing inclusive postsecondary education. Senator Bill Cassidy’s policy advisor who we met with was so impressed with Nicholas, he came and found us later that day to see if we could squeeze in a meeting with Senator Cassidy himself. We said yes, of course, and spent 45 minutes with Senator Cassidy! He is on the left in the photo above; Nicolas is in the middle and I'm on the right.

Listening to Nicholas share his story with many of Louisiana’s senators’ and representatives’ offices was an experience that will stay with me forever. I spend a great deal of time teaching students how to advocate for themselves, and I often see them put their skills into action when it comes to decision-making, job assistance, and access to opportunities on our college campus. But it is not everyday that I see my student sitting with Louisiana’s senior senator discussing policy, and how changes and additions to our laws will create a better future for Nicholas and others. 

If you haven’t already done so, apply for TCPA soon! This experience was life-changing for me, and for Nicholas, who now plans to pursue a career in advocacy and legislation. As Nicholas said so perfectly, “it was an inspiring trip because it is my dream to help people with disabilities. I was able to start making my dream come true by being a Think College Policy Advocate.” I know it will be life-changing for this year’s teams, too.

About the post author: Caroline Jurisich is currently the Director of UL LIFE in Lafayette, Louisiana and works with the policy team at Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD). Caroline's favorite part of working in this field is seeing positive changes to policies and legislation in real time, working with students, and educating others on the importance of inclusion.