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CCU Atheneum: From left, Jermisha Coakley, Ryan McClain, Shamirra Williams and Ashley Shelley en route to Senator Lindsey Graham's office on Capitol Hill.
From left, Jermisha Coakley, Ryan McClain, Shamirra Williams and Ashley Shelley en route to Senator Lindsey Graham's office on Capitol Hill.

Advocacy 101: Health promotion students storm Capitol Hill

by Sherer Royce
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Have you ever wanted to let our nation’s leaders know what you think? Well, four health promotion students, along with their professor, did just that! 

Jermisha Coakley, Ryan McClain, Ashley Shelley, Shamirra Williams and Professor Sherer Royce met with staff from Sen. Lindsey Graham’s office while attending the 15th Annual Health Education Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., in March. This occasion was an experiential component offered in their health promotion course, health policy and law. 

Three busy days (and nights with homework) were spent in the nation’s capital learning the finer points of advocacy, becoming educated about three current public health issues and practicing new skills for creating messages that are heard and remembered. The crown jewel of the experience, however, was learning how to engage elected officials on topics that they may not support and then visiting Capitol Hill for meetings with members of Congress and their staff.

The Coastal Carolina health promotion students informed Graham’s health care legislative assistant about the importance of retaining disease prevention funds in the Congressional budget and how prevention positively impacts our country's overall health, including the economy and our national security.

“Our voices are being heard, and WE are making a difference!” said one of the students after a 30-minute discussion in Graham’s office. Another announced, “I want to move to Washington.” Attending the Summit provided an opportunity for the students to connect their classroom curriculum with a real world experience. In other words, theory was put to practice.

“The experience was powerful and transformative for each of us,” said Royce. “To experience lawmaking firsthand and having an opportunity to shape policy was intoxicating. The time Sen. Graham’s office afforded us was significant, but more importantly, the professionalism and respect with which my students and I were treated was exceptional.”

Additionally, during the short trip to Washington, the students were able to network and spend time with leaders in public health and other students (mostly graduate students) from around the country.

“It is safe to say that more than health policy and advocacy was learned on this trip,” said Royce. “I believe we each learned a little more about ourselves and developed confidence in our professional roles as public health educators.”

The Advocacy Summit was sponsored by the Coalition of National Health Education Organizations (CNHEO) and the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE). More than 200 public health professionals and students attended this professional development workshop. The four health promotion students from CCU represented the first delegation from a South Carolina university to attend. These students hope to return next year with a few more CCU health promotion recruits in tow. Besides, the food choices in the Dirksen Senate Office Building mess “rocked”!


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