Temple Student Government inspires students and prepares its leaders for life after Temple.
Story by Hillel J. Hoffmann
On a sunny Tuesday in February, hundreds of students from Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities—Temple, Penn State, Pittsburgh and Lincoln—poured out of buses and crammed the stairs of the rotunda in the State Capitol building in Harrisburg. They were there to celebrate their schools’ contributions to the commonwealth at an event called the Rally for Higher Education. Elected officials, aides and tourists gathered to watch, and applause and shouts of affirmation swelled as student speakers addressed the crowd. The sounds of students singing rose to the building’s signature dome and echoed down the marble hallways.
A month and a half later, an even larger crowd of Owls swarmed the Bell Tower to protest proposed cuts to Temple’s state funding. With reporters and television cameras watching, the chanting crowd marched across Main Campus and flowed down North Broad Street, widening like a river as more people joined the students on their way to Center City. And finally, at the end of the semester, while most students were studying for finals, Temple students returned to Harrisburg for Cherry & White Day, when they visited the office of each of Pennsylvania’s 253 General Assembly members. The students were there to ensure that members of the General Assembly knew Temple students before they voted on the university’s appropriation.
For those who were with the students, either in Harrisburg or on North Broad Street, the spirit of the events was unforgettable. And who flipped the switch and unleashed all that energy? It was not an army of publicists or lobbyists; it was a small and mighty group of Temple undergraduates who form the core leadership of Temple Student Government, or TSG.
Last fall, members of TSG in the administrations of President Natalie Ramos-Castillo, EDU ’11, and her successor, Colin Saltry, a senior economics major in the Fox School of Business, began an all-consuming mission that would define their tenures in office, test their endurance, rally the university community and transform their futures. Their efforts proved what every TSG member learns, often the hard way: There might be no tougher extracurricular activity than student government service — and few that better prepare students for life after Temple.
Ramos-Castillo, an Allentown, Pa., native, did not 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 to her team naturally.
“We gain so much from Temple,” she says. “Why not support and protect something we love and something that contributes so much to the state? Why not protect our funding so that generations after us can enjoy what we’ve enjoyed?”
The odyssey began in September, when TSG launched a campaign to get students to write to their elected officials. Within months, they signed up hundreds of students to the Temple Advocates Legislative Outreach Network. In December, TSG leaders reached out to their counterparts at the three other state-related universities and set up meetings in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and State College. The TSG team successfully pushed for the creation of the Pennsylvania Association of State-Related Students, a student group that represents all four state-related universities. TSG also championed the idea of a rally in the State Capitol building and led the charge in organizing it.
Then came the hard part: getting students to become passionate enough about the issues to forsake a day of work and classes to attend. Using social media and other, older tools—including the time-tested practice of campaigning outdoors, which they did in the bitter cold of January and February—TSG mobilized busloads of Temple students to attend the rally.
The effort was worth it. More Temple students attended the Rally for Higher Education than Penn State and Pitt students combined.
Natalie Ramos-Castillo, EDU '11, speaks on behalf of Temple students at the Rally for Higher Education. Photo courtesy Joseph V. Labolito.
Natalie Ramos-Castillo, EDU ’11, 2010–2011 president of Temple Student Government (TSG), symbolically passes the bullhorn to Colin Saltry, 2011–2012 president of TSG, after Saltry's inauguration. Photo courtesy Jim Roese Photography.
“It was awesome—the most memorable moment of my Temple career,” says Vanessa Destime, a communications and political science major, TSG community affairs chair in 2010–2011 and one of the speakers at the rally.
The TSG team did not stop there. Frustrated that they had not convinced even more students to board buses to Harrisburg, they pushed harder to mobilize support for the rally at Temple in March. As TSG’s advocacy for the university built momentum, people off campus — including former student government leaders who had moved on to careers in public service—were starting to pay attention.
Jeffrey Dempsey, deputy chief of staff for State Rep. Kevin J. Boyle and president of TSG Senate from 2008 to 2010, was elated when he heard about Temple students acting as ringleaders of the Rally for Higher Education. He says that advocacy on behalf of current and future Temple students is “exactly what TSG should be doing—things that affect people’s lives in positive ways.”
Former student body president Robert Rovner, SBM ’65, LAW ’68, a Temple trustee, was just as proud. “It is the students’ responsibility to talk to their legislators,” says Rovner, who served as assistant state attorney general under former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter before becoming the youngest state senator ever elected in the commonwealth. “Once again, Temple students rose to the occasion.”
“We’ve been so impressed with the energy and passion TSG and our students bring to Temple’s advocacy efforts,” says Kenneth Lawrence Jr., senior vice president for Government, Community and Public Affairs. “Together, we’ve made a lot of progress, and I am glad to know that students will remain engaged in advocacy and public policy in their future endeavors.”
Serving on TSG, especially when big issues dominate the agenda, is time-consuming, stressful and physically demanding. Gina D’Annunzio, THM ’06, director of Student Activities at Temple and TSG’s advisor, bristles when students say they want to participate in TSG because it will help build their résumés.
“Advocacy is a 24-hour-a-day job,” she explains. “In order to be a trusted resource to students, those in student government have to be available to answer questions around the clock. And in addition to serving the student body’s needs, they have to participate in all kinds of tasks their peers probably don’t recognize, such as sitting on academic committees and attending meetings with administrators. Natalie and Colin easily dedicate 40 hours a week or more to TSG.”
There is a payoff for the long hours and the stress. The world after Temple is a tough place—especially for those seeking careers in the unforgiving world of public service. But TSG alumni are well-prepared for the job. Former TSG parliamentarian Chanel Dennis, CLA ’05, an associate at Goldman Sachs in New York City, says that participating in student government helped prepare her for two years in the U.S. State Department and beyond.
“Whether it’s public speaking, negotiating budgets or identifying what your platform is and what your stakeholders care about, they are skills you use in government or any other type of business. I use those same skills at Goldman Sachs every day,” says Dennis, who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and as a special assistant to the special envoy of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
For many TSG members, advocating for Temple students has been a voyage of self-discovery. Ramos-Castillo overcame a fear of speaking in front of large crowds and became a powerful orator who hopes to become Secretary of Education in Pennsylvania someday. Current TSG President Colin Saltry, who came to Temple from Scranton, Pa., with no political ambitions, learned how to choose his battles, apply himself and negotiate compromise solutions—an experience that has illuminated his future path.
“I had no idea this would be so empowering,” he says. “I know what I want to do now: I want to be an advocate for other people. I want to go to law school, maybe work as a U.S. district attorney somewhere in Pennsylvania, or maybe,” he admits with a smile, “serve as governor of Pennsylvania.”
If what he and his colleagues accomplished this year is any kind of indication, do not bet against him.
To help ensure the success of Temple, join TALON, the Temple Advocates Legislative Outreach Network.
Hillel J. Hoffmann is assistant director of news communications at Temple.
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