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Students Advocate on Capitol Hill

Urge Support of Health Education Legislation

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Community health students Melissa Franklin, Jenneh Kaikai and Peter Saing visited legislators during an advocacy training summit in Washington, D.C.

By Karen Angelo

Community health education students didn’t waste any time putting their advocacy skills to the test. 

Students Peter Saing, Jenneh Kaikai and Melissa Franklin attended a crash course on how to advocate for causes and policies at the Society for Public Health Education Summit in Washington, D.C. Then they jumped right in, visiting the offices of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, gaining real-world experience in the process. 

They made their case for two proposed bills – one that supports health education in schools and one that supports public health prevention initiatives. 

“Conducting Capitol Hill visits was above and beyond anything I have ever experienced as a student,” says Saing. “The legislative aides were very attentive to our concerns about health education, prevention and promotion and they provided great feedback.” 

The students joined about 250 participants at the two-day summit. They received basic and advanced-level advocacy training and were briefed on specific legislative issues including health equity, the value of investing in prevention and improving school health education. 

“Visiting the legislators was a little nerve-racking,” says Franklin. “What I learned about influencing policy is that it truly only takes one or two voices to get issues noticed.” 

Kaikai, Saing and Franklin met with Melanie Noel, an Air Force Legislative Fellow and aide to Tsongas, and asked for continued support of the public health prevention fund and described the importance of proposed health legislation on the residents of Lowell. 

“Both aides said that they were presenting the information to Sen. Warren and Rep. Tsongas, and that made me feel great,” says Franklin. 

Within the community health program, students learn how public health policies and politics determine health. “Our students are learning a new concept of public health – that policies should not be confined to public health departments but rather health should be integrated into all policies such as housing, transportation and education, to really make a difference to people’s lives,” says Prof. Craig Slatin of the community health and sustainability department. “The advocacy summit gave our students a real-world opportunity to take what they’ve learned here and engage in dialog with legislator aides and students from around the country.”