Thursday, April 17, 2008

Students Learn Government Process in Forum

Over the past year Rio Salado College student Pedro Rodriguez has had a crash course in Arizona public policy.

He’s met with state legislators, lobbied congressional members and traveled to Capitol Hill as a member of the Maricopa County Community College District Student Public Policy Forum.

In December, Rodriguez who has taken classes concurrently at Arizona State and Rio Salado, will graduate from ASU with degrees in both political science and history. He also recently earned his certification in public administration at Rio Salado College.
“I’m finally getting back to finishing up the degree,” said Rodriguez, who returned to college after a 16-year hiatus.

But while he’s pushed his way through his studies at both Rio Salado and ASU, he admits some of his more rewarding experiences have been with the public policy forum.
“I met members of Arizona’s congressional caucus and the governor’s office. I gained firsthand experience of the legislative challenges and realities with discussions ranging from sustainability to the long-term impact of community colleges,” said Rodriguez.

“But I would have to say meeting students from across the Maricopa Colleges with diverse backgrounds and interests speaks volumes of the ideals and goals behind the Student Forum,” said Rodriguez.

Every year two students from each of the ten Maricopa community colleges are selected to be part of the program. Over the course of the school year, students spend five interactive sessions getting an up close and a personal look at the workings of state and local government.
At the end of the five sessions students travel to Washington D.C. meeting with legislators to discuss federal legislation that impacts community colleges.

This year students focused on financial aid, the Dream Act, Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and a number of other issues important to students at the community college, said Chad Douwstra, director of the student public policy forum at MCCCD.
Involvement in public policy has a profound change on students. Not only do the students gain insight into the legislative process they also develop leadership skills and become skilled oral and written communicators, said Douwstra.

“Each year I am just amazed at the changes in students from the beginning when we meet in October to the end when we visit Capitol Hill. Students gain a greater sense of confidence about themselves and their ability to impact public policy,” said Douwstra.
Students also learn another valuable lesson. Before becoming involved with the program many students feel public policy doesn’t affect them and they don’t want to be involved. When they finish the program they realize they can and do have a part in creating public policy, said Douwstra.

Rodriguez’s won’t forget his trip to Washington.
“It’s one thing to sit in a classroom and study Congress and the budget process, but physically walking into the offices of Congressmen Harry Mitchell or Raul Grijalva or speaking with (former Arizona Senator) Dennis DeConcini really had an impact on us. More importantly, I like to think our time and energy had an impact on these officials as well.”

Rio Salado College, located in Tempe, is one of the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges, with more than 450 online classes with start dates every Monday. The college offers degrees and certificates in business, education, health care, law enforcement and more. For registration or more information call 480-517-8540 or go to