Trip to Washington D.C. is a life-changing experience for Trinidad State student
Valley Campus / March 25, 2015
A Trinidad State student recently went to Washington to represent Colorado Community College attendees and came away with an interest in politics. “It all began with one small step,” said Danielle Armstrong. “First, I became Senator at large, then the Vice President of Marketing for our local student government and then the State Legislative Liaison for the State Student Advisory Council (SSAC) for Colorado Community Colleges. And now I will serve on the National Leadership Council although I don’t know in which capacity yet.” Armstrong still plans to finish her counseling degree, but now she has added a Political Science degree as well. This trip seems to have sparked a fire for politics in her as she quipped, “Maybe in 20 years you’ll see me running for President!”
Teaming up with Armstrong were Ed Miller, a student at Red Rocks Community College, and its Vice President of Student Success, Lisa Fowler who also serves as the advisor for SSAC. The threesome traveled to Washington D.C. on behalf of the 180,000 Colorado Community College students to join the nearly 300 attending the National Student Advocacy Conference from March 14-17. Together they represented the 12-million community college students nationwide who comprise approximately 40 percent of America’s college students.
The students chose three major topics for discussion. Deemed most important was the FAFSA (Federal Application for Federal Student Aid) form which is required when seeking any state or federal aid whether it be loans, grants, or work study. In Scott Tipton’s office the current FAFSA form was taped page to page, floor to ceiling. His aide showed them an unofficial new post card-sized FAFSA form and told them, “This is what it’s going to be.” The other two topics were authorization of payment of student loans with pre-tax dollars and reauthorization of the Higher Education Act which determines how Congress allocates funding for higher education. Considerable discussion was also devoted to the Dream Act which would provide a free education for immigrants and America’s College Promise, based on a similar program in Tennessee, which would provide a free education for first time students who are American citizens. The question asked but not answered was, ‘How would either program be funded?’
Ralph Nader, nationally known political activist, spoke at the conference. “Ralph Nader is not just honest but brutally honest,” said Armstrong. “If you suck at your job, he will tell you!” Nader autographed his book, The Good Fight, for Armstrong. In it he writes about the “erosion of our civil liberties” and the need to “join the fight for improvement.” He was encouraging students to become politically active, to stand up and make their voices heard.
White House representatives attending the conference included Mark Mitsui, Deputy Undersecretary for Community Colleges from the U.S. Department of Education and Kyle Lierman, Associate Director for the Office of Public Engagement.
“The most educational part of the conference for me was going to the Senate and Representative buildings and speaking with aids who work with U.S. Representatives Diana DeGette, Jerod Polis, Ed Perlmutter and Scott Tipton and Senators Michael Bennett and Cory Gardner,” said Armstrong.
“I’m a very outspoken person,” she said. “Most people responded well to our concerns, but in Michael Bennett’s office, I flat out asked one reluctant person ‘Who paid for your schooling?’ He answered, ‘My mom and dad did.’ ‘How lucky for you!’ Armstrong fired back. “The majority of community college students rely on those student loans. Their parents aren’t able to pay for their schooling. I could see by the look on his face that he must be thinking ‘Oh crap, I messed with the wrong woman!’ But it was what he needed to hear,” said Armstrong.
About Armstrong, Fowler said, “I was impressed with Danielle’s leadership skills. She represented TSJC and Colorado so well. She not only impressed me, but impressed the heads of the American Student Association of Community Colleges. They would love for Danielle to be involved with the organization on a national level representing TSJC and CCCS on the Student Leadership Team. I think this is an incredible honor for your college and for CCCS. Danielle is a true gem and I am honored I had the opportunity to get to know her better. She loves TSJC.”
During their stay they visited the Capitol, the White House and the Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Thomas Jefferson, Vietnam and World War II memorials. They also toured the National Archives Museum where they saw the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. “Beyond awesome” was Armstrong’s reaction to the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery.
When they returned to Colorado, she and Miller worked into the early morning hours to outline their strategy for speaking with legislators later that day. Armstrong talked about herself, her sister, and her sister-in-law, all of whom are currently enrolled at Trinidad State Junior College in Alamosa and are dependent on financial aid to see them through. They also spoke with Ed Vigil, House District 62, who represents southern Colorado.
The next day Armstrong went to the state capitol and sat in on some senate and house meetings. She was impressed with Representative Lois Court, House District 62, who is also a Red Rocks Community College instructor. “She knew her stuff,” said Armstrong. “It was comforting to know that a woman like that, who actually works in the system, is there defending us.”
“My head literally hurt by the end of four days. There was so much information I just couldn’t take it all in, but attending the conference was definitely worth every tired stressful minute. I would do it again in a heartbeat!” said Armstrong.
“I’m a mom, my husband is a farmer and truck driver and I have to work and help support the family while I’m going to school. There’s no way I could go to school without the financial help I’m getting. I couldn’t do it,” said Armstrong who is excited about the second major she has added to her educational goals. She said she appreciates all who are helping her along the way.