Believing that Americans are becoming too cynical about the change their collective voices can bring, April Shelby sought to learn more about the role of advocacy in the political process.
The Cal State Fullerton communications major enrolled in a political science course called “Journey in Advocacy,” which each spring, teaches students how to have a voice in California policymaking while taking them on a two-day trip to Sacramento to tour the capitol, meet with state legislators and network with alumni working in the field.
“I’ve always heard the word ‘advocate,’ but I never really knew what it meant to be an advocate,” said Shelby, who is passionate about improving education in California. For her class project, she is researching the benefits of lower student-to-teacher ratios and communicating to legislators the need for more teachers in K-12 classrooms.
“One of the biggest takeaways that I received from the trip is that our voices matter,” she explained. “I heard a number of stories in Sacramento about how much legislators took action on an issue because of the advocacy of everyday Californians.”
The trip, which aims to augment students’ coursework with hands-on learning experiences, is organized by the university’s Department of Government and Community Relations and funded by the Student Success Initiative, Miscellaneous Course Fees from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Instructionally Related Activities.
“Many students have never been to Sacramento before,” said Sarah Hill, associate professor of political science and course instructor. “This class teaches them how to participate in state and local government, while giving them the chance to meet with legislators and alumni to learn about potential career opportunities.”
Hill also emphasized that the class is open to majors beyond political science, giving the field of engineering as an example. “Even engineers need to know how to talk to government because their industry is highly regulated,” she said.
When students return from Sacramento, they are required to schedule meetings with local legislators to further discuss their class projects, which cover such issues from education to the affordable housing crisis.
Nicholas Cabeza, a public administration major who took the class last year, said “Journey in Advocacy” set the foundation for his lifelong career in public service.
“One of the most rewarding educational experiences that I have had was the opportunity to participate in ‘Journey in Advocacy,'” said Cabeza, who hopes to become a legislative representative. “This course sparked my interest in public policy and equipped me with skills to communicate effectively with people at all levels.”
This semester Cabeza is serving as a legislative intern in Sacramento, staffing three bills for Sen. Josh Newman’s office: SB-715 (regulatory boards), SB-1043 (veterans services) and SB-1119 (low carbon transit operations program). Cabeza said this involves conducting research, developing fact sheets and background documents, managing co-author requests, responding to constituent inquiries and meeting with the bills’ sponsors to ensure that the bills are moving through the legislative process.
“Every week I have the opportunity to meet with Sen. Newman and the legislative team to discuss priorities, concerns or budget asks from various constituents,” said Cabeza. “As a result of my experience as a legislative intern, I have learned several strategies for establishing and maintaining effective working relationships with both the public, as well as elected officials.”