Students connecting For change
Students Connecting for Change is the tagline for the college organization LeadMN. LeadMN is a student led, Minnesota state college association that breaks down barriers by empowering two-year college students to become strong leaders and to engage community members to do the same.
We had president of the organization Priscilla Moyawa on our Cities Speak podcast in August where she spoke to our Executive Director Dana Healy about her organization’s work and the impact they hope to make on the community.
LeadMN works to eliminate obstacles students face while in college. They tackle issues such as tuition hikes, textbook costs, food insecurity, and more. “Our job is just finding ways that we can alleviate some of those stresses and make college more accessible to people around the state of
Minnesota,” said Moyawa.
Taking direct action
In the state of Minnesota, there are over 180,000 students that are at 2-year colleges. In Ramsey County, there are five 2-year colleges alone, so many of these students are a part of our community. LeadMN works to help these students develop leadership skills through a number of ways. They offer five to six conferences every year where students can learn to advocate for themselves and other students, tell their stories, and make a difference on their campuses.
Moyawa and her organization also work with students to take their concerns from the campus level to the state level. They work with the Minnesota State System which oversees all two and four year schools to help solve these issues. “We serve as that representative for our students in voicing their concerns, in voicing their frustration,” said Moyawa.
Every February, LeadMN heads to the State Capitol to advocate for action on issues that are affecting their students. Through their advocacy efforts, they have managed to stop tuition hikes in the past six years. This was especially important to them this year due to the pandemic. “A lot of people don’t have jobs, money is not easy to come by these days for folks,” said Moyawa.
Driving out the vote
LeadMN encourages its students to be civically engaged by not only voting by also participating in the Census. “We know that the Census is very important for our students to take, and for people in general to take, because a lot of money is lost when people are not fully counted. I think the Census Bureau has it around $30,000 per person for 10 years that is lost, and so we don’t want our student community to lose that money,” said Moyawa. Colleges can us this money for financial aid, Pell grants, and other beneficial student services according to Moyawa.
One of LeadMN’s most established initiatives is driving out the vote. In the typical year, they would be setting up pop-up booths and talking to Minnesota residents face-to-face. However, this year they had to figure out other ways they could get the word out. They have set up phone and text banking to reach out to potential voters about getting registered to vote.
Moyawa herself knows how important it is to vote. “I’ve been able to contribute on my own as a student representative in speaking to other students and talking to them about the importance of voting, letting them know where they need to go and vote, talking about absentee ballots and all that stuff,” said Moyawa.
Who said election season isn’t fun?
This summer, various colleges in the area participated in a competition led by LeadMN to see which college could come up with the best idea to engage students in the voting process. Some of the ideas include free transportation to the polls and free masks and gloves at polling places for in-person voters. LeadMN recently provided the grant money to the colleges who came up with the best ideas to put these ideas into action.
Changing the way you make change
The organization is adjusting their work where they can. “We’re putting together agendas, we’re working on basic needs policy that we think will impact our students. So a lot of those things that don’t require having us to actually be somewhere besides our home or the office,” said Moyawa.
Instead of asking themselves, what can’t we do now, MNLead asks what can we still do? “What can we put together? How can we talk to the people that we need to talk to to make sure that students are still protected, and students are still getting the benefits that we provide for them?” said Moyawa.
Giving power to students
LeadMN works to find out the ways they can really make an impact on students’ lives. All of their work is driven by student opinions. “We always, always encourage students to use their power and their voice to get things done,” said Moyawa. Although LeadMN is not a political organization, Moyawa says it’s a stepping stone for people who are interested to see how it feels to be an advocate for change. “For students out there who are looking for ways to feel more empowered, to be more involved, to get their feet into what it feels like to be part of a collective, this is a great opportunity for you to do that,” said Moyawa.