Passion for policy and advocacy sets CPTC student on new course
By Jean Borst
When the COVID pandemic paused his restaurant career, Jacob Katz took the opportunity to reflect on his interests and new career paths. He looked to his own life experiences and lessons learned to pave the way.
Katz is a recovering opioid addict. And he considers himself lucky.
“I’m blessed by family and the resources I need to be successful,” he said. “I’m so inspired by those who don’t have those support systems under them and are seeking recovery and a better way to live. I want to help in any way I can.”
Katz set his sights on the Human Services program at Clover Park Technical College, intending to complete the Chemical Dependency Certificate option and become a substance abuse counselor. But a foray into student advocacy – on campus and in Olympia – made Katz realize he could have a more significant impact on a larger stage.
A familiar campus fixture
When Katz began his studies in 2021, it didn’t take long for him to become a familiar fixture on the CPTC campus. (His service dog, Bubba, was also an instant hit.) He began working in the Student Leadership & Service Center, a one-stop shop for all things campus life, including student IDs, Orca passes, the CPTC Food Pantry, and information on campus events and activities. The self-proclaimed introvert found himself at home helping others.
“I quickly learned that Jacob was really good at welcoming students into that space,” CPTC Director of Student Life Jessica Wallack said. “He always put them at ease, asked the right questions and provided helpful information.”
Others also took note of his relatability. Last year, CPTC President Dr. Joyce Loveday asked Katz and two other students to join her for a series of virtual visits with state legislators. Katz made the time to get the most out of the opportunity.
“Jacob not only showed up, but he also did extensive research to ensure he knew exactly who he was talking with and what their area of expertise was,” Wallack said. “He made the extra effort to make those connections even more impactful.”
An advocate is born
Katz stepped up to fill an open position within CPTC’s Associated Student Government. As chair of the Events and Activities Committee, he helped organize a campus-wide voter registration campaign. He also got involved with the Washington Association of Community and Technical College Student Association (WACTCSA), a group that represents around 380,000 students across the state. Members meet weekly to identify issues and concerns on their campuses and determine the highest priorities for advocacy during the Washington state legislative session.
It was during that experience that Katz found his passion for policy and how it affects students. Wallack encouraged him to apply for a 2023 legislative internship with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC). In January, Katz joined two other students in Olympia for the 105-day session. He’s the first technical college student selected to serve as a SBCTC legislative intern.
Star of the show
During his time in Olympia, Katz has met with legislators and provided in-person testimony on legislation critical to technical and community college students, including expansion of the Washington College Grant program (HB 1156) and establishment of the Postsecondary Students Basic Needs Act (HB 1559). He also joined fellow WACTCSA student leaders for a day of advocacy, meeting with legislators to discusses the group’s 2023 priorities:
- Textbook affordability
- Expanded mental health resources on campus
- Increased financial assistance
- Childcare assistance
“Education is a huge priority on both sides of the aisle, and technical and community colleges are the star of the show,” Katz said. “We are a direct link between students and the workforce. Everyone is on board with getting students through school and into high living-wage jobs.”
A new path
His experiences in Olympia have given Katz the opportunity to see the impact of policy changes and made him re-think his career path. “I want to get my foot in the door in that world and become a voice for policies and funding that support substance abuse recovery for all,” he said.
That means he’ll be in Olympia full time beginning in September. Katz plans to continue his studies in the Political Economy, Global Studies and Environmental Justice program at The Evergreen State College.
In a recent Legislative News blog post on the SBCTC website, Katz wrote, “As I continue to settle into my position as a legislative intern, my excitement around the legislative process grows. Every day I seem to spend more time on the hill than the day before and I am greeted with a sense of purpose and gratitude. There is something special about those old marble hallways, and I hope to spend my days there for some time to come.”