Ernesto Parra felt honored when one of his political science professors asked him if he would like to take part in a student roundtable discussion with Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, who visited UWM on Tuesday.
“I wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to meet the governor,” said Parra, a junior studying accounting and finance with a political science minor.
Alex Nelson, a senior majoring in biological sciences, felt the same way.
“To call this experience ‘enriching’ would be an understatement,” Nelson said. “I felt this would be a unique opportunity to connect with policy on a deeper level. I also wanted to hear the potent insights that I knew the other student panelists would bring.”
Evers met with about 30 students to answer their questions about issues they are most interested in, which included college affordability and access, social equity, climate change and reproductive rights.
Evers then toured some of the student-facing offices on campus, including the Roberto Hernandez Center, the Office of Undergraduate Research, Black Student Cultural Center, Student Success Center and the Military and Veterans Resource Center, meeting and chatting with more students.
Many of the participating students said the governor’s answers met their expectations, but they appreciated the fact that he gave a realistic view about what could be accomplished on issues where the political parties disagree.
Parra said that reinforced his belief in the importance of voting.
“It’s always been one of my goals to be able to have an impact on the community,” Parra said. “And that’s why, ever since I turned 18, I’ve been really active in every election cycle. I feel like it’s really important, even if you’re feeling hopeless (about politics). Just being able to exercise that right (voting) is a privilege.”
Kaitlynn Bonner, a doctoral student in urban education, attended primarily to hear what the governor had to say about protecting reproductive rights in Wisconsin and to join the discussion. She came to a similar conclusion.
“Some topics discussed quite simply are not changes he could make alone as governor,” Bonner said. “I think he did well in explaining that. What I took away from this is the most important action we can take is to get out and vote, and help others vote as well.”
For Nelson, the governor’s message that students use their educations to help effect the change they want to see resonated the most.
“The terms ‘outreach and advocacy’ – or ‘get out there,’ as Gov. Evers put it – are two of the most vital measures that we have as well-educated, grassroots organizers,” he said.
At the Office of Undergraduate Research after the event, Nelson had a chance to see Evers again and was impressed with his authentic interest in young problem-solvers. “Despite being on a tight schedule, he took the time to ask each of the seven students in the room detailed questions about their research projects.”