A diverse and energetic group of students proudly represented Radford University during Advocacy Day, a two-day trip that took them on tours of historic Richmond landmarks and brought them face-to-face with legislators.
Forty-eight Radford University and Radford University Carilion (RUC) students, along with several administrators, departed campus the morning of January 29, 2020. Cheers erupted as the bus wound its way onto the interstate for a three-and-a-half-hour drive to the Commonwealth’s capital.
For an estimated 20 years, Radford University has sent students to Advocacy Day as an experiential opportunity to see government in action, inspire representatives with shared stories of resiliency, grit and success and encourage their ongoing support of Radford University. Students return to Radford empowered and equipped with strengthened life skills, such as interpersonal communication and leadership.
The busy day began with tours of the Virginia State Capitol building and the Executive Mansion, the home of Virginia’s governors since 1813. For the first time on an Advocacy Day trip, students also toured the Supreme Court of Virginia. Outside the building, senior Aubree Marshall, a double major in biology and anthropology, was enthusiastic about the tours.
“I’ve learned so much,” she said.
Marshall shared why she chose to attend the trip again this year: “I love Radford with everything in me, so I take every opportunity I’m given to share that passion with others.”
Board of Visitors (BOV) members Rachel Fowlkes, Ed.D., and Nancy Rice accompanied the students as they took in the sights and sounds of the city and agreed the trip was a transformative experience.
“It’s important for them to see the government working effectively and to share with our government leaders their personal Radford University stories,” Fowlkes said. “We have a great group of students this year, and I am proud of each of every one of them for their participation.”
Additional BOV members joined students later that evening as they dined at a restaurant in Richmond’s Shockoe Slip district.
At one table, BOV member Mark Lawrence prepped students for their visits with representatives.
“Share your stories,” he said. “Those are your most valuable tools. You are our best lobbyists.”
The next day, before daybreak, students got an early start to another busy day. Dressed professionally in black attire – highlighted by red ties and scarves – they finished breakfast and then began their advocacy work.
Ethan Sweeney, a junior emergency services major, was excited to represent RUC located in Roanoke. Sweeney is the RUC representative to the Student Government Association (SGA).
“I feel very strongly about Radford University Carilion, and I know that now more than ever we need to advocate for future generations and help ease their education costs a little bit,” Sweeney said. “With more money, we get better training, and we see the direct benefit of these actions.”
As the sun rose, students boarded the bus and headed to the Pocahontas Building for the main event of the trip – advocating for Radford University.
Inside the bustling building, the students split into groups based on their hometown representatives and were accompanied by BOV members and Radford University administrators.
The groups traveled from floor to floor and office to office to meet with dozens of delegates and senators. During the appointments, they championed Radford University’s affordable tuition, its growing campus, new construction, study abroad trips to the Amazon and the Arctic, life-changing classes and memorable professors. Brock Barnes, a graduate student enrolled in the University’s Educational Leadership program, touted all the opportunities Radford University has afforded him.
“Radford University has allowed me to follow my dreams,” Barnes said. “I earned my undergraduate degree here, then enrolled to get my master’s this past semester. Because of Radford, I’m now a full-time teacher, teaching eighth grade, and I aspire to one day become a principal.”
Traveling with her group to their last scheduled appointment of the day, Destiny Goldwyn, a senior political science major, beamed with newfound confidence. Goldwyn admitted she was nervous to sign up for Advocacy Day, but after meeting with a few legislators, “it all just came so natural,” she said.
“This type of grassroots work is what I’m passionate about,” she continued. “I hope one day I’ll have an office here and people will want to come and talk with me about their issues. This has been an amazing first-hand experience. I’m so glad I decided to come.”
Following the whirlwind of activity, students posed for photos on the steps of the Capitol then walked to the Patrick Henry Building, where they were joined by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam for a photo. Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., and BOV members Rector Bob Archer, Jay Brown, Ph.D., Tom Brewster, M.S. ’95, Ed.D., Karyn Moran ’88, Fowlkes, Lawrence and Rice also joined in championing the students and their efforts.
As students relaxed on the bus ride back to campus, Associate Vice President for Student Life Tricia Smith reflected on Advocacy Day 2020.
“Watching our students speak passionately and sincerely about their Radford experience is a gift that I wish everyone could witness,” Smith said. “They shared about the deeply impactful relationships with faculty, outstanding experiences with programs and the true sense of family they feel on campus. I am truly proud of these students.”
With campus just miles away, the re-energized group erupted in excitement once again, this time in song: “Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong, Southwest Virginia…”
by Mary Hardbarger