Dear members of the NASFAA community,
My name is Jackson Snellman, and I am NASFAA's Dallas Martin Endowment (DME) Policy Intern for this summer. I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to the supporters of this endowment as well as the members of our organization who made my presence here possible. As a recent graduate and passionate advocate for policy's ability to impact social change and improve our democracy, I am very privileged to be in this position and work as part of the NASFAA team. In an era of turbulent challenges and perhaps the most difficult time in memory to work in higher education, it is more important than ever to push for big changes through both individual and collaborative action.
My interest in education access, specifically for civic education in marginalized communities, began with my time at Rutgers University. Located in New Brunswick, New Jersey, a city with a 36.1% poverty rate, the campus-based student experience often stands in contrast with the many working-class individuals who populate the city permanently and more heavily depend on its resources. During my sophomore year, I had the opportunity to teach civics at New Brunswick High School, whose disproportionately minority and impoverished students effectively harnessed their new knowledge of shaping their communities with personal civic power. However, I also learned that the Lincoln Elementary School Annex – where many of the students I was teaching had previously attended – was designated to be demolished in favor of the construction of a university cancer research center. While cancer research was clearly a worthwhile investment of Rutgers resources, a replacement school would not be constructed for years, forcing the current Lincoln Annex students to attend school in a converted storage shed. My anger with the situation intensified as I struggled to find my voice to protest against the decision; two months later, the world witnessed as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the communities whose young people were so motivated by the prospect of change.
Supportive circumstances are critical for anyone pursuing education, whether they are the kindergartener at the Lincoln Annex or a nervous first-generation graduate student struggling to pay off their loans. My remaining time at Rutgers, spent largely in Zoom rooms, was focused on creating those circumstances for my peers at all levels of the university. During our year taking courses virtually, I created civic resources with our Center for Youth Political Participation to ensure that Rutgers students stayed connected to political life despite operating from their bedroom desks; this was complemented by efforts to place a polling location on campus. The efforts paid off: Rutgers - New Brunswick's voting rate rose to 72.8%, a 20.2% increase from the 2016 presidential election. I knew that I could do more to support my school's underrepresented groups, whose priorities do not always coincide with institutional goals and interests. My senior year was spent interning with the Rutgers Office of Federal Relations (OFR), through which I ensured that there was a focus on elevating marginalized voices in our policy priorities and regularly included diversity & inclusion into standard government relations practices. Our spring cohort of the Rutgers Advocacy Corps, an OFR-sponsored 1.5 credit course in which students learn federal lobbying practices and advocate for increased student aid, reflected these priorities: we proudly counted a formerly incarcerated nontraditional student among our ranks, and included DACA-related Pell Grant advocacy for the first time. This experience proved that conventional understandings of government practice can be changed to include the voices of those who need additional institutional support, something I wish to carry forward while at NASFAA and beyond.
In times of distress, people seek to understand the world – frequently through education. A commitment to seeing that education is accessible, understandable, and affordable is an honorable task, and I am very grateful to contribute to NASFAA's mission to do so. I will be continuing this mission in the fall when I pursue my Master of Public Policy with a focus in Social Policy at Sciences Po in Paris, whose pedagogy encourages students to mix theory and practice and engage with the constituents who feel the impact of policy. When we perform our policy practice, we must ensure that we stay connected to those who are affected by it and make our systems better for every person.
To conclude, I'd like to tell you a bit more about myself as a person. I am an avid traveler, photographer, and city/urban life enthusiast – I will happily hand you a ten-day itinerary twenty minutes after you mention a place you'd like to visit! Though I went to school in New Jersey, I am a born-and-raised Georgian and carry both parts of my geographical identity with fierce pride. If you see me on Zoom, you may notice that I enjoy the clothes I wear as a form of self-expression, many of them purchased second-hand! Finally, I'm trying to get back into reading fiction, so if you have any recommendations, feel free to let me know.
Thank you for taking the time to read my first article. Please keep up by reading Today's News, as I'll be continuing to write about student aid issues during this summer. You are welcome to reach out with comments, suggestions, or book recommendations at [email protected].
Publication Date: 5/31/2022