Rio Salado College students Brianna Bonnell and Beka Namachanja know the struggles of today’s college students. This year, they researched the issues, crafted proposals to make improvements, and took them to a place they hope can make changes: Washington D.C.
Bonnell and Namachanja are members of Maricopa Community College’s Student Public Policy Forum (SPPF), a nearly seven-month program that gives students an overview of local, state and national public policy making, as well as citizen influence and involvement. As representatives of RIo Salado and Maricopa, they set up one-on-one meetings with Congressional staff and advocacy groups during the March spring break.
Bonnell is studying political science with an emphasis on international relations and Namachanja is pursuing a degree in addictions and substance abuse. Both have plans to continue their education and obtain a bachelor's degree. To enter the SPPF program, both went through an application process.
"I learned a lot about group dynamics while working on my SPPF project. It was a great experience to organize other students," Namachanja said. "Even though policy-making seems challenging, the SPPF has given me a glimpse of how policy is made and what I can do to make a difference."
“I feel like SPPF has been my favorite experience from college … beyond the D.C. trip I’ve been offered three internships,” Bonnell said.
The skills they’ve learned - and put into practice - led to each of them taking on a leadership role in the class. They headed up each of the two groups that presented various ideas in D.C.
The meetings were insightful, they said.
“They provided an aspect of how policy is made and how difficult it is to move the needle on anything,” Namachanja said.
Bonnell’s group focused on education advocacy for DACA students, specifically through Pell Grants. Namachanja’s group presented the benefits of “promise programs,” which provide free community college to residents, funded through city and federal programs.
Some of the biggest lessons, Bonnell said, came from learning how Congress works, and navigating a group project with people who have different ideas, as well as how to think outside of the original plans, especially in a high pressure setting.
“You also got to see if this is something you want to do in the future,” she said. “It gives you that experience. We were advocating.”
John Bastain, student life and leadership director at Rio Salado, was in awe of the students as they told their stories.
“That’s a life experience,” he said. “Sometimes we have to adjust and adapt and learn from them.