Seven Schuylkill campus students gather on the Pennsylvania capitol building's rotunda stairs after rallying their state representatives.

Schuylkill students visit capitol, rally for high stakes issues

By: Samantha Bower

SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, Pa. — Annually, Penn State students, alumni, faculty and staff descend on Pennsylvania’s capitol building for Capital Day. They advocate passionately for funds that will lend the University leverage to lower tuition costs for in-state students, increase opportunities for groundbreaking research, and ultimately stimulate the Commonwealth’s economy. While this event draws participants University-wide, Penn State Schuylkill’s students took a personal stake in this year’s venture, sharing their diverse stories with legislators and representatives.

Students and staff representing the Schuylkill campus embarked on this journey, meeting first with Mike Tobash, House of Representative member for Pennsylvania’s 125th Legislative District. During this meeting, students aired their concerns and flaunted their adoration for the University. Brenna Baker, a sophomore honors student, informed Tobash that, “If it weren’t for state and federal funding, I wouldn’t be in college. Penn State offered me research-based learning opportunities that weren’t available to me at other state facilities.” Penn State is making a difference in Baker’s life; for her, she said, toying with a decrease in funding is personal.

During the meeting, Tobash explained that the state’s budgeting system is performance-based, telling the students that he is "proud of the Invent Penn State initiative,” that helps bolster Commonwealth entrepreneurship and economic growth. For many, this new program — and the University that birthed it — has become an important asset for community and economic development.

Kelly M. Austin, Schuylkill campus chancellor, also joined the students in Tobash’s office for this meeting. Before the meeting concluded, Austin emphasized the value of higher education funding: “Every dollar invested in research is returned to the Commonwealth threefold. This [higher education] investment benefits the Commonwealth.”

Before their final meetings, all Capital Day participants converged in the capitol rotunda where they heard from several speakers and enjoyed a sundae from the Berkey Creamery. The Blue Band blasted the Alma Mater; the Nittany Lion mascot amped up excitement with a couple of emphatic cheerleaders; and several speakers addressed the crowd, including Penn State President Eric Barron.

Every Penn State advocate was devoted to and vehement about their mission: to retain funding for Penn State. At a time when many prospective students and their families are concerned about funding higher education, Barron reiterates that, “We have made access and affordability our priority.” As Baker voiced earlier, the Schuylkill campus students can attest to that mission.

After a light lunch, the Schuylkill troupe visited David Argall’s office. Argall is a Pennsylvania state senator representing the 29th district. During the meeting, Argall discussed a proposal for “mergers between health, welfare and aging programs [that] could save $100 million.” The proposition could prevent legislators from having to choose between funding higher education and assisting the state’s most vulnerable people.

The event was well-attended by not only Schuylkill campus participants, but also Penn State supporters across the Commonwealth. David Gonzalez, a three-time graduate of Penn State Schuylkill and president of the Penn State Schuylkill Alumni Society Board, summed up the day nicely: “With so many demands on our state budget, it is important to demonstrate our resolve for Penn State. The students and alumni made a strong case during this Capital Day. The fact that so many took time out of their busy schedule to support our University demonstrates our commitment.”