Wow... where has the time gone? Fighting dual feelings of sadness and fulfillment, and after an amazing three months, today is my last day as an intern with NASFAA. As I have expressed to the policy team, having the opportunity to work with NASFAA has been one of the best professional experiences of my life. I was first introduced to state higher education policy as a senior in college and as I matriculated to graduate school, I really wanted to explore and learn more about the challenges and opportunities associated with higher education policy at the federal level.
Even though my internship experience was fully remote due to the pandemic, I have gained so much knowledge about education finance and sharpened my research and advocacy skills. But, above all, I am leaving with a deep sense of appreciation for the financial aid profession and a heightened passion for advocating for under-resourced students and communities. As a final farewell, I have written about five of my favorite experiences I had as NASFAA's 2021 Dallas Martin Endowment policy intern and where life is taking me next.
My most impactful experience of my internship was working with Rachel Gentry, NASFAA's assistant director of federal and state relations, to garner feedback and build consensus among the association's Pell Restoration Working Group. Throughout this process, I learned about the numerous challenges experienced by incarcerated students navigating the financial aid process and the opportunities associated with the reinstatement of Pell eligibility, and gained a greater respect for the implementation phase of the policy process. I also got to work on compiling the working group's report and recommendations that will soon be shared with the financial aid community to assist with enacting this new policy. Back home in Louisiana, we have some of the highest rates of incarceration in the country, so I am pleased that the federal government has acted to restore Pell Grant eligibility to justice-impacted individuals and am looking forward to seeing the positive results this change brings to students.
Throughout the summer, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in NASFAA's Advocacy Pipeline, an initiative to connect financial aid professionals with their members of Congress. In addition to meeting with folks from Utah, I was able to connect with financial aid professionals and congressional staff from my home state of Louisiana. I really enjoyed speaking about the challenges facing students in Louisiana, especially as a result of the pandemic. It was also eye-opening to hear what financial aid administrators are dealing with on the front lines of institutions as they work to support and advise today's students on how to pay for college.
Over the course of the summer, I was able to attend the Committee for Education Funding's (CEF) weekly meetings to learn and discuss the current events impacting funding across the education continuum. It was so great to engage in robust discussions with so many passionate professionals and organizations dedicated to increased access to and support for education. To my surprise, later in the summer, my supervisor recommended that I participate as a panelist at CEF's annual budget briefing webinar to speak about the importance of President Joe Biden's historic budget proposal. As the sole panelist representing higher education, I shared my perspective as a student and advocated for several of the financial aid community's top funding priorities, including doubling the Pell Grant, increasing campus-based aid funding, and investing in student support services and Minority-Serving Institutions. Even though I was nervous, I really enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the challenges that students across the country are facing and the opportunity that Congress has to address them.
At the beginning of my internship, I realized that I was the tenth policy intern that NASFAA has brought on since the DME Internship Program began in 2012. As I worked through the summer, I wondered what the former interns have been up to and what advice they would have for me. After speaking with my supervisor, Rachel, she loved the idea of connecting with these professionals, interviewing them about their time since working with NASFAA, and compiling these conversations into an article to share with the association. Over the course of the summer, I worked to connect with and interview NASFAA's former interns to learn more about their professional journeys and current work, and was able to publish this article to share their perspectives and insight with NASFAA and future interns.
Going into my internship, one of my key goals was to learn how to effectively leverage research and data to become a better informed advocate. I had an opportunity to work closely with Megan Walter, one of NASFAA's policy analysts, to learn how to track and summarize legislation making its way through Congress. It was so interesting to read the varying types of legislative proposals for higher education and their potential impacts on students and campuses. I also had a chance to work with Charlotte Etier, NASFAA's director of research and grants, on finding publications, articles, and other resources to improve the Student Aid Reference Desk; as well as, updating the data for NASFAA's forthcoming 2021 National Student Aid Profile. I am excited to see the profile finalized and published later this fall, and am honored to have contributed to this important, renowned publication.
In two weeks, I will be heading into the last year of my graduate program at Louisiana State University and later this month, I will be starting a new role as a State Policy Fellow with a Louisiana-based think tank, in conjunction with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' State Policy Fellowship Program. The two-year program is aimed at expanding the diversity of voices in state policy debates and improving the livelihoods of low- to moderate-income citizens. I am so excited to join a cohort of 11 young, talented, and equity-minded professionals from across the country; and I will have the opportunity to focus on education policy issues facing my home state. Without a doubt, my experiences and lessons at NASFAA will allow me to be an effective researcher and advocate in this new challenge.
Before I go, I want to give some final acknowledgements:
This internship would not be possible without the generous support of the Dallas Martin Endowment for Public Policy and Student Aid. I would like to sincerely thank every contributor (past and future) for their gift in ensuring that students like me can participate in this amazing opportunity.
I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the NASFAA staff and members who have welcomed me since day one and showed me what it means to be a valued part of a team. Also, I want to especially thank the Policy and Federal Relations Team: Megan C., Karen, Megan W., Jill, Charlotte, and Jackie — you truly made my experience at NASFAA one of a kind and I will be forever grateful for the laughs, lessons, and opportunity to support your important work!
Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank my AMAZING supervisor, Rachel! You took me under your wing and consistently empowered me to contribute in ways I didn't know I was capable of. You have been an amazing mentor and I am so grateful to have learned from you this summer!
Publication Date: 8/13/2021