CHESS conference continues on (virtually)

Under the pressures of the ongoing pandemic, a 26-year-old educational advocacy conference was forced to move from the California Capitol building to a video call. Every year, the Cal State Student Association invites attendees from all 23 California State University campuses to train with state legislators on government affairs annually in the California Higher Education Student Summit, otherwise known as CHESS.

The CHESS website stated when students attend CHESS they “participate in various training sessions on state governance, higher education and public policy and conduct lobby visits in preparation for Advocacy Day at the Capitol.” 

The conference usually lasts for two days, but now plans to have one mandatory day to adjust to it’s online modality on March 7. Afterwards, from March 8 to 12, participants will have the opportunity to meet state legislatures online in Advocacy Week. Speakers at this year’s CHESS will include Chancellor Castro and several leaders from the Cal State Student Association. Students must apply to participate in the process by Feb. 24 at noon.

Applications for California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) students are overseen by Associated Students (AS). AS’s senior coordinator of governance and operations Joanna Iwata said a strong application for CHESS should showcase a high level of interest in civics.

“How students express their interests in civic engagement and why it’s important for them to participate in the conference to support their own growth and understanding of what it requires to be an effective student advocate, along with how they could apply this at CSUMB would be important for [application reviewers] to know,” she said.

Iwata noted one of the bigger changes in this year’s CHESS is its shift from an advocacy day to an advocacy week. This grants participants more opportunity to speak with legislators. Iwata also stated CSUMB students will have the chance to meet officials working in the Central Coast “whom they can address critical issues with.” 

Since CHESS brings in folks from 23 different universities, attendees can meet others interested in civic engagement that they otherwise might not run into anywhere else. In the past, participants drove in with people from their home universities, and May Her said that experience helped her learn more about CSUMB’s students and staff. 

Her is a collaborative health and human services major and attended the conference last year. “I honestly never knew what lobbying was and because of this experience,” said Her, “I now know how to better advocate for what is needed in my community.”

Her won’t be applying for this year’s CHESS because she wants to leave room for another student who has never attended before. She said the biggest highlight of the conference was lobbying, where she was able to vouch to make FAFSA more accessible, which “gave [her] a greater sense of confidence.” She said other CSUMB students should apply for CHESS to get out of their comfort zone and learn lobbying tools. 

“I myself was not sure what I was getting myself into, but I’m glad I didn’t because there is so much to the world that we aren’t sure about and it isn’t until you throw yourself into it, then we truly can understand it,” she said.

Itawa agreed, saying CHESS offers students a great learning experience that emphasizes using their voice as an advocate and not just a classmate. 

“Oftentimes, students may be curious about how their concerns are addressed at the state level by our state legislators, and this is a perfect opportunity for them to learn more about how we can address such issues,” like tuition and fees, basic needs, financial aid, graduation requirements and more, “through effective lobbying (students)  learn more about state government and public policy,” Iwata said. 

CSUMB students can apply for CHESS at for a chance to learn more about state and local government by Feb. 24. 

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