Editor's note: This story was originally published on March 24, 2014.


What began as a chilly, rainy morning in Orlando turned into a sunny and successful day for students from the University of Central Florida in Tallahassee.

More than 50 UCF students took a trip to the Florida Capitol Wednesday for "Day at the Capitol" to lobby for issues affecting students. Eleven students presented undergraduate research to legislators.

"The whole purpose of our trip was to lobby for Aim Higher," said Melissa Westbrook, the president of the UCF Student Government Association.

Aim Higher is a coalition that asks state legislatures to invest $118 million in the State University System. The SGA at UCF and the Aim Higher Coalition expect that this investment would lead to a freeze in tuition increases for college students across the state of Florida for the 2013­2014 academic year.

Students were put into groups of three and met with two to three legislatures per group. Each group was given an agenda containing the five issues being lobbied for as well as a booklet containing information about the undergraduate researchers presenting at the Capitol.

SGA also hosted its first Posters at the Capitol, which showcased the work of 11 undergraduate researchers and promoted the university's strengths to members of legislature at the Capitol. These posters included prominent and innovative research in psychology, biotechnology, early childhood development, political science, engineering and anthropology.

One student's research could bring significant changes in the way that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement, is studied. Senior biotechnology major Pascal Nelson is doing research in identifying the protein that can cause ALS.

"My research is in the survival of PC12 cells and the presence of nitration," she said.

While her studies focused mainly on the effects that PC12 cells have on mice, she plans to eventually take her research and apply it to human studies to identify this protein as a cause of ALS in order to better the medication treatments for patients with ALS.

At the end of the day, students came together for a reception dinner. The dinner included thank­you speeches from Westbrook and SGA Director of Governmental Affairs Cynthia Florentino, who both stressed the importance of having UCF's presence in the Capitol when advocating for issues affecting students and thanked the students who came on the trip to help support these issues.

Two Florida legislative representatives were scheduled to speak, but could not make the event due to a funeral for former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, who passed away March 13.

Many of the students who attended the event are involved in the student government, but other students also attended the event. Quintello Green, a freshman political science major, found out about the event through a mass email from the university and hoped to gain experience from meeting with legislatures.

"I said, 'I have to do this,'" Green said, when asked why she attended the event. "It doesn't feel like I'm talking to a brick wall. I can put a face to a name and realize that [a representative is] an actual person like I am."

Green said she enjoyed the experience of walking around the Capitol and being able to see the everyday atmosphere of the people working in an environment she aspires toward. Green also found that the most important thing she learned from the experience was being able to "bridge the gap" between students and their government officials.

Rarmie Rattray, a junior political science major, learned the importance of presence when advocating for important issues.

"Representatives do really like when you come to them," she said.

After her experience in the Capitol, Rattray said that although she aspires to become an attorney, she would like to get more involved in government.

"Get more involved, whether you like it or not," she said. "It really makes a difference."

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