Radford University is the home of the ‘American Dream’ through higher education.
Tatiana Tshibuyi, a senior political science major, delivered those words confidently in an opening pitch across 12 different meetings with members of the Virginia General Assembly over a three-hour span on Wednesday, Feb. 1, inside the Pocahontas Building in Richmond.
Tshibuyi wasn’t alone in making a bold statement like this on behalf of Radford University. She was flanked on office couches and in hallways throughout the building by fellow students who delivered similar impassioned monologues to lawmakers in the state capitol.
“I’m an introvert by nature,” Tshibuyi said. “But my voice matters, and what I have to say is important because I have conviction.”
She was part of a collection of 50 students who were joined by faculty and staff representatives, Board of Visitors members, and President Bret Danilowicz and First Lady Kay Danilowicz for Radford University’s annual Advocacy Day.
A tradition that is in its 23rd year, Advocacy Day allows students to share the importance of their state-supported education with General Assembly members, and to ask elected representatives to consider voting for legislation that would benefit the university.
Tshibuyi, a pre-law student who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and became a naturalized U.S. citizen while growing up in Woodbridge, Virginia, clearly communicated to lawmakers the importance of Radford University in her life.
“Education is the great equalizer,” she said during a meeting. “Our institution has helped first-generation students like me be able to afford Radford while getting a first-class education, which should be important to everyone.”
The goal of Advocacy Day is to create a mutually beneficial experience.
“Advocacy Day is a wonderful leadership opportunity for our students,” said Dr. Susan Trageser, Vice President for Student Affairs. “For members of the General Assembly, it’s impactful to actually hear what the opportunity for an education at Radford University means to students.”
Trageser, who coordinates Advocacy Day activities, led preparation meetings that began during the fall semester for interested students. The meetings covered topics including the legislative process, university funding and support priorities, and communication tactics.
Advocacy Day also allowed students to have meetings with elected officials from their home districts.
Jamori Harris, an aspiring vocalist and a criminal justice major, met with his representative, Delegate John McGuire (R-Glen Allen). Harris, a Louisa native, crossed paths with McGuire during an internship with his brother, Louisa County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rusty McGuire. Advocacy Day gave Harris the opportunity to have a conversation with the delegate about why supporting Radford University is important.
“I’m proud of Radford because of the opportunities it’s given me,” Harris said. “Hearing feedback from people (like John McGuire) is beneficial and I’m glad that I was afforded the chance to be a representative for myself and my peers.”
Some connections between students and legislators ran deeper.
Troy Stallard, a senior at Radford University Carilion and an Air Force veteran, spent part of his Advocacy Day attending a meeting of the General Assembly’s Military and Veterans Caucus. Stallard also met with Delegate Jason Ballard (R-Giles), Radford University’s representative and an Army veteran, who is sponsoring legislation aimed at establishing new behavioral health treatments for former armed service members.
Stallard, who plans on attending medical school and practicing in the VA medical system, saw the Advocacy Day exercise as one that deepened his own connection to Radford University.
“Being in a science-heavy academic program, this has been a good way for me to be part of the overall college experience,” Stallard said. “Advocating and supporting the university is beneficial for current students and will help us continue to do that as alumni.”
Advocacy Day allows students to speak about issues important to them, like access and affordability. Some also share how the university’s academic programs and their career choices can support state legislative priorities.
Katrina Sainovich, a second-year occupational therapy graduate student at RUC, advocated for how lawmakers can support healthcare workers through education.
“By making sure that our education stays affordable, we can help fill the shortage gaps in the industry,” she said during one meeting. “Radford does an amazing job with its healthcare focus, and by supporting the university, we can support the commonwealth.”
For Sainovich, advocacy for her profession goes beyond one day of meetings in Richmond. Throughout her RUC education, she’s been encouraged to be vocal about the benefits of occupational therapy.
“Being able to do this, get out of your comfort zone and tell people why occupational therapy is important is a great experience,” she said.
For all students, the day gave them a new perspective about elected officials.
“They’re human,” Harris said. “To get into a one-on-one conversation with people that you see in the media and know that we’re dealing with authentic people is reassuring.”
They also saw how advocacy is an opportunity for lawmakers to understand what’s important to their constituents.
“I learned that a lot of legislators have become more open-minded and more focused on the policy than the politics,” Tshibuyi said. “We all need to focus on doing the real-world work.”