UWEC students lobby at Chippewa Valley Rally

Students lobby at state capitol for Science and Health Sciences Building funding


Photo by Brett Farmer

Members from the Student Senate in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol at the Chippewa Valley Rally.

Several UW-Eau Claire students attended the Chippewa Valley Rally at the Wisconsin State Capitol to lobby for the new Science and Health Sciences Building and other initiatives in the Chippewa Valley on Wednesday, March 29.

Student Body President Rossellin Gaitán, Vice President Farmer, directors Hannah Kelly, Sydney McGuine and Anakah Denison and senators Jake Hicks, Matthew Lehner, Peter Mayer and Sierra Szydel from the Student Senate attended the lobbying day.

Scott Rogers is the vice president of governmental affairs at the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, and works primarily on the chamber’s advocacy initiatives.

According to Rogers, the Chippewa Valley Rally is an event aimed at bringing economic issues of the Chippewa Valley to the capitol, and the rally hosted by the Chambers Alliance — the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce and the Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce.

“For many years we’ve been doing that with a significant part of the planning being done by UW-Eau Claire Students,” Rogers said. “In recent years, we’ve had two political science students who we hire as interns for the school year and they do a lot of the coordinating and logistics for the rally. And this year that’s Emily Johnston and Mallory Wiliams.” 

Rogers said the rally was originally planned for Wednesday, February 22, but had to be rescheduled to Wednesday, March 29 because of inclement weather.

“We were scheduled to have a major weather event that Tuesday through Thursday and so we made the decision to postpone the rally and reschedule on a day that worked for most people,” Rogers said. “It did turn out that it would have been hard to accomplish it on that date, because we indeed got some pretty dangerous snow.”

Gov. Tony Evers included $231 million for phase II of the UW-Eau Claire’s new Science and Health Sciences Building in his recommendations for the 2023-2024 Capital Budget.

Chancellor James Schmidt said this was his ninth time attending the Chippewa Valley Rally in the 10 years he has been chancellor at UW-Eau Claire.

“Most of the time legislators are hearing from ‘hired guns’ or lobbyists who are being paid to go in and lobby on their behalf, and so it’s kind of a breath of fresh air when everyday people get the chance to (lobby),” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said as an educator and an activist, he loves seeing students lobby for the first time and he hopes students who attended the Chippewa Valley Rally continue to lobby their legislatures while attending UW-Eau Claire and after they graduate.

“On any issue (they) care deeply about, I wanted to give them that encouragement to speak out, to contact them, to go to legislators’ offices and advocate for things, whether it’s education or the environment or taxes or any number of things that fall into that public purview,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said he asked business leaders to speak to legislators first about the Science and Health Sciences Building funding.

“I thought it was important that legislators hear from someone other than us on why the science building is important for the economic vitality of the region,” Schmidt said. “And then I was there to answer follow-up questions if they had more detailed questions.”

Farmer, a third-year public relations student, said the Chippewa Valley Rally attendees heard from Evers and UW System President Jay Rothman, talked to a panel of legislators from the Chippewa Valley and a panel of state department secretaries and then were split into small groups to lobby their legislators.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to have my first exposure to the capitol and meeting with legislators and lobbying,” Farmer said. “It was a super cool opportunity to further connect to the community as a university because our top issue this year was securing the funding for our Science and Health Sciences Building.”

Kelly, a third-year political science student and the Intergovernmental Affairs Commission director, said the Chamber Alliance made her feel informed and prepared to meet with her state senators and representatives.

“Representatives respond much more to personal interactions with citizens. By directly telling representatives what we want face-to-face, change and progress is more possible,” Kelly said.

McGuine is a third-year environmental public health student and serves as the Student Office of Sustainability Commission senate director. Earlier in the 66th session, the senate passed bill 66-B-4 to fund Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the new Science and Health Sciences Building. 

“(LEED certification) is a huge deal, and we are also hoping to have information in the front of the completed building talking about LEED certification and all of the sustainable parts of the building that were added due to that certification,” McGuine said. “On top of that, having this building LEED certified makes it a cleaner building in general and lowers our campus’s footprint as a whole.”

Denison, a fourth-year ecology and environmental biology student and the senate personnel director, said she remembered hearing about a new science building since her first year on campus and lobbying for the building has been in the background of her senate experience.

“I’ve done research all four years here so I’ve spent many, many hours in Phillips and it’s very clear to me not only as a research student but also as a UW-Eau Claire student that that building needs to go,” Denison said. “It’s not serving our needs anymore both from an education and research standpoint, but from a safety standpoint. We had a fire a few years ago and there’s no sprinkler system in Phillips. It’s not up to par as a science building.

Lehner, a second-year political science student, said it is important to lobby because our government is meant to be accessible to the public, and we have a responsibility to petition our representatives.

“We need somebody to advocate for (the building) and I think it’s important for legislators to hear from students who will be directly impacted by this and hear the statistics and numbers and why it’s important that we get that new science building.”

Hicks, a second-year political science and software engineering student, said lobbying at the capitol gave him the opportunity to see what real politics looks like.

“Representatives are in fact real people, and can’t be expected to know every issue in every part of the state,” Hicks said. “Policy decisions are more favorable to those who are the most persistent in having their voice heard.”

Hicks also said the private sector has the largest source of lobbying power because of its ability to invest in time and resources, and that students should take every opportunity they have to lobby their legislators.

Szydel, a third-year public health student who started at UW-Eau in 2014 but took a leave of absence for military service, said she was surprised when she returned to the university almost a decade later to find Phillips Science Hall hadn’t improved.

“UWEC cannot progress as a cutting-edge scientific university unless it is given the methods to do so,” Szydel said. “The new Science and Health Sciences Building will allow for an incredible partnership with Mayo Clinic. Not only will this bring career professionals to the Chippewa Valley, but it will allow students the incredible opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research with these physicians.”

Ashley DeMuth, CEO of the Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce, said community members were also lobbying for the renovation of Heritage Hall at UW-Stout, which was not included in Evers’ recommendations for the 2023-2025 Capital Budget.

“We are asking for the community to assist with promoting this renovation project as a necessity as it has valuable return on investment for crucial workforce areas such as childcare, mental and behavior services, hospitality and tourism and more,” DeMuth said.

The Joint Committee on Finance will hold a public budget listening session on the UW-Eau Claire campus from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 11 in the Ojibwe Ballroom of Davies Student Center.

Schmidt said he was “thrilled” the campus was chosen, and this is the first time one of the public budget listening sessions will be held on campus during his time as chancellor. 

“It’s good to bring a spotlight to the community of Eau Claire and talk about issues important to us. I like that it’s accessible to all the people of Eau Claire, including college students,” Schmidt said. “We’re going to be hosting it in Davies Center, which is right next door to the existing science building and I’m hoping to do some impromptu tours with legislators who are in attendance.”

More information about the new Science and Health Sciences Building is available on the UW-Eau Claire website and more information about the other lobbying initiatives in the Chippewa Valley is available on the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce website.

Kasper can be reached at [email protected].