Student Advocacy in Action: UConn MSE Delegation’s Impactful Congressional Visits Day

photo with From left: Jaclyn Grace, Ben Gwinnell, Rachel Harris, with Rep. Joe Courtney (2nd from right)

From left: Jaclyn Grace, Ben Gwinnell, Rachel Harris, with Rep. Joe Courtney (2nd from right)

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

Five materials science and engineering (MSE) undergraduate students from UConn packed their bags and headed to Washington, DC in April for ‘Congressional Visits Day.’ This event, organized by Material Advantage – the student association for the four main MSE professional societies (ASM International, TMS, AIST, and ACerS) – brought together students from across the nation. Leading the UCMA (UConn Material Advantage Student Chapter) delegation was Jaclyn Grace (’24), the outgoing UCMA president, accompanied by the newly elected executive board members Benjamin Gwinnell (’25), Connor Storicks (’26), Thatcher Slocum (’28), and Rachel Harris (’26).

“The goal of the event is to speak to Congressional Legislators and their teams about the importance of research in materials science, engineering and manufacturing, and the recent cut in R&D (research and development) funding,” Senior MSE major, Jaclyn Grace, explained. “There was a cut of over 6% federally, which greatly impacts the colleges and universities in our country. We were not lobbying for Connecticut specifically, but for R&D and educational funding for STEM in general.”

During the event, students had quick sit-downs with staffers to talk about how federal funding hits home for them. Some meetings were as short as ten minutes in duration, but Jaclyn felt like the response rate was high. “Our meetings mostly consisted of staffers telling us that they will look for letters and bills that support our cause, and will try to move them up on their lists of importance,” she said.

UConn’s meetings were with John Larson (CT 1), Rosa DeLauro (CT 3), Richard Blumenthal (CT Senate), and Andy Kim (NJ 3). “I think what stood out to me most was how kind the staffers are. Even though they are busy and overbooked, they faced us with kindness and genuinely listened to what we were saying. Most didn’t know what MSE was, and being able to speak about our individual experiences was important.”

Jaclyn shared that the highlight of the event was an unexpected meeting with Congressman Joe Courtney. “We ended up meeting him completely by surprise, as we initially had a meeting with one of his staffers. Our meeting took place in his office, so upon his return, he joined our meeting. Getting to meet with the actual Congresspeople and Senators is not common during this event since they are so busy, so it was a welcome surprise. He was very excited to talk to us about submarines, welding, and manufacturing. Since Rachel, Ben, and myself are all from District 2, our meeting felt extremely personal. He brought up the importance of educational funding in each of our hometowns. In my case specifically, he told me about his recent visit to my prior high school–Westbrook High. They have become a golden standard of tailoring their education to learning styles of many different students and providing alternative opportunities through a partnership with General Dynamics Electric Boat. It showed that he truly cares about the people he is representing.”

Overall, Jaclyn summarized Congressional Visits Day not as a conference, but an opportunity. “The event was very self-motivated, as the total impact of the day was based on the students’ proactivity and personal experiences that they shared. I think everyone should participate in a congressional visit if they get the chance, because it’s important to fight for the things that are personally meaningful. It doesn’t necessarily have to be education or R&D, but the more that elected officials hear from their constituents about the things we’re passionate about, the more likely that our issues are to be addressed. You never know how big of an impact you can have, but you do know that nothing will ever change if you don’t make an effort.”

Published: April 25, 2024

Categories: funding, news, stem, student chapter, undergraduate students

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