Students from Penn State Hazleton traveled to the state Capitol in Harrisburg on March 31 as part of a large contingent of Penn State students, alumni and supporters attending Capital Day. The annual event provides an opportunity for Penn State supporters to meet with legislators to discuss the importance of Penn State to the state's economy and the need for funding for higher education.
The students encouraged their lawmakers to support Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed budget, which would provide an additional $49.6 million to the university, by sharing personal stories about what a Penn State education means to them and to their family and emphasizing the importance of higher education as a public good.
Penn State Hazleton was represented by first-year students Mauro Notaro, Charles Ziegmont and Robert Vitagliano, members of the Student Government Association (SGA) at the campus.
Ziegmont came to Penn State from Tallahassee, Florida, based on the reputation of the school and the education it provides. He chose the Hazleton campus in part so he could save money by living with relatives and also have an easier transition to University Park.
The three students joined SGA because they were seeking a way to become involved with the campus community.
Notaro, a McAdoo resident, said it's important for the government to support Penn State. Vitagliano, of Hazleton, said the university is an important part of Pennsylvania's growth and development.
The three attended Capital Day, Vitagliano said, because "we have a responsibility to advocate for the students who couldn't, and to fight for the betterment of our campus."
During Capital Day, they met with state Representative Tarah Toohil, who represents Greater Hazleton. They heard her speak at a luncheon at Penn State Hazleton about two weeks before Capital Day and were interested in her ideas of working with younger constituents and the role Penn State Hazleton will play in the revitalization of Hazleton's downtown.
Ziegmont was elected SGA president the same day as Capital Day, with his running mate Vitagliano elected as vice president. Some of Ziegmont's goals as president are to get students more involved and informed on campus activities and to improve campus pride at Penn State Hazleton.
"We're all part of Penn State. We're Penn State, just in Hazleton," he said.
Michael DiRaimo, vice president for governmental affairs, provided a legislative update to the delegation of Penn State supporters as he discussed key messages to emphasize to legislators.
He stressed the importance of keeping a college education affordable for people at all socioeconomic levels. He noted that a portion of the university's state appropriation is dedicated to economic development, which improves the state's economy and makes it more likely that talented young graduates will stay in Pennsylvania.
DiRaimo spoke about the importance of Commonwealth campuses such as Penn State Hazleton, which provide students with the opportunity to live at home while attending college. "That's something we need to protect and preserve for the next generation," he said.
He praised the students who attended the event, saying, "Next week, I am going to get so many compliments from legislators on how sincere, well-spoken, intelligent and professional Penn State students are. That happens every year. And every year, we are incredibly proud of what you can accomplish in this building."
The event culminated with a "Rally in the Rotunda," during which Penn State students - loud and proud - filled the steps in the Capitol Rotunda to the sounds of "Hail to the Lion" and the "We Are" cheer. Speakers during the rally, including Penn State Alumni Association President Kay Salvino, emphasized the importance of Penn State. Commonwealth campuses were also highlighted, with student leaders pointing out that many first-generation college students are able to attend because of Penn State's campuses throughout the state. At the end of the rally, students enjoyed ice cream from the Berkey Creamery.