Genesis Galilea Pompa’s initial interest in advocacy work and lobbying came from her involvement with Associated Students Incorporated (ASI) and her former role as the organization’s secretary of external affairs.
That interest recently grew when the political science senior took a new political science course in spring semester dubbed, “Bronco Advocates — Applied Advocacy and Policy Making in Sacramento.”
The hybrid course helped students learn the history of advocacy in shaping public policy and laws, while also preparing them to make elevator-style pitches to state lawmakers on a variety of higher education issues from housing insecurity to immigration to the need for more financial support.
“It was an incredible experience,” said Pompa, a South Gate native. “As students, we can often feel intimidated to meet with legislators, but we learned not to be intimidated. The biggest thing is we got a lot of advice from elected officials and staff on how to advocate and how to persevere.”
In April, students had an opportunity to put their classroom learnings into action. Pompa was part of a group of 15 Cal Poly Pomona students, two faculty members and one staff member, who traveled to the state capitol to connect with lawmakers. The trip was fully funded by a $27,600 Kellogg Legacy Foundation grant.
The prepared elevator-style pitches on various issues they researched in class and delivered them to state law makers and state capitol staffers. The legislators were open and receptive to what the students had to say and offered feedback and advice moving forward, according to those who attended the trip.
Whitney Mannies, a lecturer in the political science department who taught the class, said it was a chance for students – many of whom graduated in May – to stretch and learn.
The first part of the semester was reading about and discussing theories of policy change. As the class went on and speakers visited, the students worked in groups to explore the advocacy topics they would meet with state lawmakers about. The students conducted research and participated in mock lobbying exercises the week before they headed to Sacramento.
Then they were up and running.
“The best part was seeing them grow,” she said of the students. “Every single one of the students was so pleased with their experience. They were daunted before, but afterwards, they had such confidence. They found the legislators and staff assistants so open to them. It helped the students to view themselves as professionals, adults who had real things to say. It was really rewarding to see.”
Political Science Chair and Professor Mario Guerrero said the department has long sent its students to Sacramento formally and informally to earn course credits and do internships, but the new Bronco Advocates course will help the university better coordinate efforts across campus and encourage students from diverse majors to participate.
Advocacy teaches problem solving, communication and leadership skills, Guerrero said.
“Our bread and butter counts on lobbying the state for resources,” he said. “The way to advocate for more resources as a Cal State is to get our students on board. We teach our graduates to be effective leaders and part of that is being able to advocate for yourself. Being an advocate is solving problems in a way where students are in charge of themselves. We try to empower them to be leaders.”
Michelle Ellis Viorato, interim assistant director in the university’s Office of Government and External Affairs, helped set up the meetings with the lawmakers and traveled to Sacramento with the group.
The campus’ Governmental Affairs staff partnered with faculty to educate students about the higher education landscape and identify priorities for their advocacy efforts, as well as bring in guest speakers and plan activities for the trip.
“We wanted to make sure it was not cost prohibitive. The students didn’t have to pay for anything,” Viorato said. “The idea was to allow the students to solely focus on learning about legislative advocacy and becoming advocates.”
While the Kellogg Legacy grant provided one-time funding, the political science department plans to tap into existing funds and raise more dollars to keep offering the course and experience each year.
Pompa, who also has traveled to Washington, D.C., with President Soraya M. Coley to advocate for the university, sees the course as an experiential learning opportunity for students across all colleges, particularly those in non-STEM majors, to become advocates for themselves and the causes they care about.
“I’ve gained passion,” she said. “That’s what learn by doing does. Advocacy goes into lobbying. There’s a distinction there, but if you have both, you have powerful change.”
To help defer the travel costs associated with the course, the political science department is accepting donations. Visit the political science donation page to support the Bronco Advocates program. Those who want to learn more about the course and keep up with developments can sign up for an interest list.