PhD Student Goes to Washington to Advocate for Graduate School Funding

May 6, 2019

By Matthew Kredell

Pictured here: Theresa Hernandez (USC student), Sally Pratt, Andy Eisenlohr (USC student)

USC Price PhD student Andrew Eisenlohr visited Capitol Hill in April to ask California’s U.S. Congressional representatives to continue their support and funding of graduate education, calling it “one of the best investments the government can make.”

Eisenlohr, a third-year PhD candidate in Urban Planning and Development, was one of two USC graduate students chosen by the University to accompany Vice Provost for Graduate Programs Sally Pratt to Hill Advocacy Day, a program of the Council of Graduate Schools.

Representatives from 15 universities across the country met with 6 House and Senate offices on April 4 to advocate on behalf of graduate education, research and scholarship.

Pratt, Eisenlohr and USC Rossier graduate student Theresa Hernandez did their part by joining with students and administrators from University of California, Santa Barbara and San Francisco, to meet with staffers from the offices of U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, as well as four U.S. Representatives, most notably Rep. Susan Davis, who oversees the House Subcommittee on Education and Workforce Development.

“I’m interested in using my research to shape future policymaking for public education,” Eisenlohr said. “It was extremely helpful to go in there and see what lawmakers think about on a daily basis, how the lobbying process works, how lawmakers think about issues and agendize them during appropriations season. The policy I’m studying for my dissertation is a federal policy, as it was congressional law that introduced charter schools to D.C., and I got to see a side of policymaking I’ve never witnessed before.”

Pratt has been participating in Hill Advocacy Day for the past several years, but this was the first year that graduate students were asked to attend by the Council of Graduate Schools. “It made such a difference,” Pratt said of having students participate. “It underscored the point of the whole thing, which is really our students. Without the students in previous years, a number of the conversations with aids were polite but not really engaged. With the students there, the meetings were much more engaging and a whole lot more fun too.”

Eisenlohr’s proposed dissertation focuses on urban education policy, specifically the equity implications of charter school reform in the District of Columbia.

Pictured here: Andy Eisenlohr (USC student), Elizabeth Watkins (UCSF dean), Sally Pratt, Emily Jones (UCSF student), Nairi Hartooni (UCSF student), Hanna Buechi (UCSB student), Carol Genetti (UCSB dean), John Vincent Decemvirale (UCSB student), Theresa Hernandez (USC student)

In his presentation to congressional staffers, Eisenlohr explained how federal funding sources through the U.S. Department of Transportation, via the University’s METRANS Center, have enabled him to conduct research for USC Price Profs. Marlon Boarnet and Tridib Banerjee.

“This work has helped support me as a student, equipped me with valuable experience for producing my own academic research, and produced findings that benefit government at the local, state and federal levels,” Eisenlohr said at the meetings. “I can definitively say that I have directly benefited from federal funding to the University of Southern California.”

Prior to enrolling at USC, Eisenlohr worked for the District of Columbia in its state education office. Pratt stated that his familiarity with how D.C. operates helped in the meetings.

“In the conversations with staffers, Andy was invaluable because he can speak Washingtonese,” Pratt said. “He knows the vocabulary of Congress and how to make issues register in certain ways. He even knew people that the staffers knew, helping us connect with them in a more meaningful way.”