Posted March 9, 2011

Student Government leaders mobilize to support Temple

Joseph V. Labolito / Temple University
Temple Student Government President Natalie Ramos-Castillo leads hundreds of students in the singing of Temple's fight song at the Rally for Higher Education in the rotunda of the State Capitol last month.

At the height of the Rally for Higher Education last month, hundreds of students from Temple, Penn State, Pittsburgh and Lincoln — Pennsylvania's four state-related universities — crammed the rotunda of the State Capitol in Harrisburg to celebrate their schools' contributions to the Commonwealth. Applause and shouts of affirmation swelled with each student speaker. A crowd of elected officials, aides and tourists gathered to watch. The sound of students singing echoed down the marble hallways. For those who were there — even for those who only watched the event on video — the electricity of the moment was unforgettable.

So who flipped the switch and unleashed all that energy? It was a small but dedicated group of Temple students who form the core leadership of Temple Student Government (TSG).

Starting last fall, TSG officers under the guidance of President Natalie Ramos-Castillo (above) began to rally students to support Temple as the university prepared to advocate for continued state funding. TSG leadership led campaigns to get students to write their elected officials, signing up hundreds of Temple students to the Temple Advocates Legislative Outreach Network, or TALON. They reached out to their counterparts at the other three state-related organizations, championed the idea of a rally in Harrisburg, led the charge in organizing the rally, mobilized nearly a hundred Temple students to attend (more than Penn State and Pitt combined) and invited President Ann Weaver Hart to speak to students about the university's state funding at a "State of the Campus" address.

"Temple students have always had a reputation for leadership and engagement; this year's TSG team is a shining example of this tradition," said Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr., Temple's senior vice president for government, community and public affairs. "Their advocacy activities are crucial moving forward."

In addition to Ramos-Castillo, TSG members who have taken the lead in building support for Temple include Eva Alkasov (office manager); Jarred Davidson (chair, local affairs); Vanessa Destime (chair, community affairs); Alyssa Ecker (chair, university life); Jillian Kochis (Supreme Court chief justice); Mark Quien (chair, allocations; senator, Fox School of Business); Brandon Rey Ramirez (senator, College of Liberal Arts); Colin Saltry (Senate president), Alex Shelow (vice president, services and accounting); Taylor Whitson (chief of staff); and Damon Williams (vice president, external affairs and communications).

Ramos-Castillo, a senior from Allentown, didn't run for office knowing that advocacy for continued state support for higher education would dominate her administration's agenda. But rallying students to fight for Temple has come naturally to her team.

"We love Temple; we get so much from Temple," she said. "Why not support and protect something that you love, something that contributes so much to local economies throughout the state? Why not protect our funding so that generations after us can enjoy what we've enjoyed?"

To accomplish their goals, Ramos-Castillo and her team reached out to student leaders at other state-related institutions. Last December, TSG traveled to Harrisburg to meet their counterparts from Penn State, Pitt and Lincoln. The Harrisburg session was followed by similar spirited meetings at Temple and Penn State. At those sessions, TSG leaders successfully pushed for the creation of the Pennsylvania Association of State-related Students, and the idea of a Rally for Higher Education was born.

In January and early February, TSG turned their attention to signing up students to attend the rally. Using social media and other less high-tech tools — including three days of old-fashioned pavement advocacy at the Bell Tower in the bitter cold of February, a time when TSG leaders were struggling with illness and studying for exams — TSG mobilized busloads of students to attend the rally and signed up hundreds more to advocate for Temple via TALON.

The effort was worth it. The rally on Feb. 15 was a stunning success.

"It was awesome — the most memorable moment of my Temple career. The energy and camaraderie was amazing and being in the Capitol was uplifting," said junior communications and political science major Vanessa Destime, TSG community affairs chair and one of the speakers at the rally.

With the rally behind them, TSG's leaders are busy preparing for the next phase of advocacy. Their message to Temple students: We're not done yet.

"The fight is still going on," said senior communications major Damon Williams, TSG's chair of external affairs and communications. "Students, go to TALON and take action. Keep writing letters to Harrisburg, keep calling elected officials. Stay in their ears. They need to know that higher education is important. We are not going to stop."