Last month, a group of ten student body presidents from various universities in Minnesota were sitting in the U.S. Senate gallery in Washington D.C., listening to the political leaders of the country discuss a bill on GMO’s. Among the group was St. Cloud State Student Government president Summer Vogl, who was fascinated by the exchange happening on the Senate floor.
“I sat there and listened to a bill on GMO’s. It was very dry but I just sat there and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is so cool,’” Vogl said.
Vogl says she’s always been interested in politics and that this trip to D.C., her first ever, only cemented her aspirations.
“I’ve always wanted to be in politics. I thought my first stepping-stone would be to teach about politics, so that’s why I’m going to be a social studies education teacher,” Vogl said. “I love policy. I love reform.”
Vogl said this was her first time visiting Washington D.C., and that the experience, while inspiring, was also jarring.
“Culture shock,” Vogl said when asked how she initially reacted to the city. “I am from a town of less than 500 people…Walnut Grove, MN. We lived three miles from [Laura Ingalls Wilder’s] dugout.” Vogl said that despite being at times overwhelmed by the change in pace and culture, she couldn’t soak in enough of the city’s rich history.
“I’m obsessed with history, so I wanted to run everywhere. Every single morning I would get up and go for a run,” Vogl said. “Once you got to go see [the history], it really set in.”
She said a particularly moving moment for her was her visit to the Lincoln monument.
“We went to the Lincoln Monument at night and you walk in and it’s just quiet. There’s just an overwhelming sense of emotions that are going through you. When you read his speeches and you’re like, ‘This actually happened here’,” Vogl said.
The trip was organized through the Minnesota State University Association (MSUSA) in an effort to lobby for five initiatives aimed at lowering student debt in Minnesota.
The group met with representatives from the offices of Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, and Reps. Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan, among others, to whom they presented their five initiatives, which include free tuition for a student’s first two years at a public college and public funding to make textbooks more affordable.
“[The representatives] like hearing the students’ voices and they like being able to use our stories to try to get other legislators or other Congress people to sign onto their bill,” Vogl said. “The students’ stories are so powerful… That was probably the main reason we went down.”
Vogl said that hearing the stories of the other MSUSA members on the trip impacted her as well, particularly hearing about the other students’ mounting college debt.
“Hearing the other students’ stories… hearing how much interest they’ve accumulated, I was shocked by that. Some of them accumulated what their loan is in interest. That’s ridiculous,” Vogl said.
Having done two years of PSEO, Vogl said she felt she was sitting much better financially than many others, which she said has made her realize the importance of educating students about all their options when it comes to taking out college loans.
“If we look at our campus, we can be proud that our tuition is low, but how can we be sure that we’re providing all the services that students need?” Vogl said. It’s important to educate students about their loans, and how the interest works, she said.
Vogl also said that on the trip, she learned about nationwide trends in higher public education that could benefit students at SCSU.
“I was able to bring back a lot of information,” Vogl said. “I did a presentation to our Student Government council about some things we can do, like open-source textbooks.” An open-source, or open textbook is a textbook licensed under an open copyright, meaning it is freely available to students at little to no cost. Many universities across the country have invested in open textbook programs.
When asked if there was a particularly meaningful moment of the trip that stood out to her, Vogl described a moment during the group’s visit to Rep. Collin Peterson’s office.
“When you walk in, you see a whole bunch of 4-H pictures and I was in 4-H. That probably hit me the most, realizing these people actually do represent us,” she said.
Vogl said that although this was her first visit to the nation’s capitol, she hopes it’s not the last.
“I don’t want to live there today, but maybe one day. It’s something that I’ve totally thought about. This would be amazing,” she said.