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USD McNair Scholars Director Reflects on D.C. Trip to Meet Congress Representatives

USD McNair Scholars Director Reflects on D.C. Trip to Meet Congress Representatives

Recently, the director of University of San Diego's TRIO McNair Scholars Program, Ramiro Frausto, spent nearly a week in Washington D.C., attending the 39th annual Council for Opportunity in Education's Policy Seminar, which also enabled him the chance to meet with California's local congressional representatives. Frausto reflects on the McNair Program and the latter opportunity below.

I am often asked, “What does McNair do?” The short answer is that McNair prepares high-achieving, eligible students to pursue a PhD. The longer answer is a bit more complex.

The USD TRIO McNair Scholars Program is a federally-funded program designed to increase the attainment of doctoral degrees by first generation to college, income eligible, and underrepresented students. Through a holistic program, which includes research experiences, conference presentation opportunities, and professional development training, we prepare our scholars for the rigors of doctoral studies. And while only 1.88 percent of adults over the age of 25 have a PhD — a number that dwindles significantly when accounting for our demographic — the story is much different in McNair.

Seventy percent of the 2019 USD McNair cohort has been accepted into graduate programs, with 50 percent earning admission directly into doctoral programs. So how did I end up in Washington D.C.? As a federal program, TRIO funding is susceptible to the political tides. The last two budgets proposed by this administration included extensive cuts to TRIO funding and the complete elimination of McNair. Joined by colleagues from across the nation, the TRIO community descended on Capitol Hill late last month to share our students’ success stories and secure the support of our congressional representatives.

Lobbying initially seemed so abstract. I understood the purpose but not the process. To my surprise, it turned out to be mostly about relationships. Specifically, it was about the relationship between a representative and their constituents. During the preparatory sessions of the conference, we received instruction on how to share our programs’ stories and how to make the official “asks.” The ask(s) refers to a specific action requested of our representative. We also learned that of all the influencing voices in Congress, research repeatedly demonstrated that constituent participation is the greatest single factor in a representative’s decision-making process. In this contemptuous political climate, it proved refreshing and encouraging to discover that the soul of our democracy is still very much alive.

The morning of our Capitol Hill visits arrived. I donned my freshly pressed suit and departed for the Longworth Congressional Office Building. Our first meeting took place in Representative Mike Levine’s office. He hosted coffee and donuts with constituents. It was all reminiscent of the college experience. The cafeteria, the donuts, and the semi-decorated office of a freshman member. I half expected to see a poster taped to the wall. The difference, however, is that this freshman will vote to increase TRIO funding. An auspicious start; we were delighted! It was followed by appointment meetings with legislative aides for Representatives Duncan Hunter, Juan Vargas, and Scott Peters.

We concluded our day by meeting with Congresswoman Susan Davis. I beamed with pride while describing the success of the USD Institute of College Initiatives — it houses three USD TRIO programs: Upward Bound, Student Support Services and McNair, the Summer Food Service program and liaison to the Gates Millennium Scholars and Rotary International programs.

I shared Joshua Barrio’s story. A McNair Scholar and veteran who recently received a GEM Fellowship and admission to the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Aerospace Engineering PhD program. Davis listened intently to all of our stories and asked for feedback. It felt surreal, but there I was, a TRIO alum and a first-generation college graduate discussing education policy with the Chair of the Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee.

After reflecting on the entire experience my favorite realization is that the majority of participants in this process were people, not lobbyists. We must remember that democracy is a participatory sport and it is up to us to ensure the integrity of the game.

— Ramiro Frausto, USD TRIO McNair Scholars Director

USD McNair Scholars Director Ramiro Frausto, top row, third from left, recently went to Washington D.C. and met with local Congress representatives such as Susan Davis to share McNair success stories.USD McNair Scholars Director Ramiro Frausto, top row, third from left, recently went to Washington D.C. and met with local Congress representatives such as Susan Davis to share McNair success stories.

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