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Learning and lobbying

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

Saad Farhed and Hiba Fareed had never visited the Massachusetts Statehouse before, but they were determined to make their first visit count.

On March 1, the two Northeastern University students crisscrossed the capitol, meeting with state representatives and senators to push for continued support of need-based financial aid programs. With the legislature expected to face tough budgetary decisions this year, the students hoped to make their case for preserving this funding.

Farhed and Fareed, both mechanical engineering majors, said state financial aid was critical to their own college careers, and being part of that discussion at the state level was an eye-opening experience.

“It gave me great insight into how the legislative process goes,” said Farhed, a senior.

“I felt kind of in awe that I’d get the opportunity to meet all the representatives and senators, and it was an honor listening to them,” added Fareed. The junior noted that receiving financial aid provides students with extra motivation to excel in the classroom.

The event was part of Student Financial Aid Day, which was organized by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts and drew students from 29 colleges and universities across the state.

Massachusetts House Speaker and Northeastern alumnus Robert DeLeo addressed all the students before they fanned out across the Statehouse. He commended them for participating, saying that hearing directly from constituents on issues can have a powerful effect.

“I honestly feel higher education is very important in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It’s something we should be proud of and something we should protect,” said DeLeo. He also stressed the legislature’s duty to work on behalf of measures that give Massachusetts the highly educated workforce it needs to thrive.

DeLeo, BA’72, also greeted the Northeastern students individually and spoke proudly of his education on Huntington Avenue, hailing not only the university’s signature co-op program but also President Joseph E. Aoun’s leadership in raising Northeastern’s international profile.

During their visit, the Northeastern students spoke with Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who thanked them for addressing the topic with her. They visited Rep. Gloria Fox’s office, as well.

Northeastern’s student financial aid and government affairs offices helped prepare the students for the event, as part of the university’s ongoing commitment to protect need-based state and federal aid for higher education.

As one example of that commitment, President Aoun is leading a group of top higher education officials throughout the country in urging the Obama administration to preserve the Perkins Student Loan Program, which benefits more than 500,000 low-income college students each year but faces an uncertain future beyond 2014.