Fifteen students from Gustavus Adolphus College traveled from St. Peter to St. Paul on Wednesday, March 13 to advocate for the Minnesota State Grant program – a program that provides financial aid to almost 800 current Gusties. But one of those students – first-year student Paget Pengelly – had other business to attend to at the State Capitol.
Pengelly testified in front of the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee on Senate File No. 717. The bill, which is authored by Minnetonka Senator Terri Bonoff, addresses safety concerns that result from high school students engaging in underage drinking on rented limousines and party buses.
Pengelly, who is a graduate of Minnetonka High School, was asked to advocate for the bill by Imogen Davis, Director of Tonka CARES, a coalition of parents and community members whose mission is to reduce underage substance abuse in the Minnetonka School District community.
“I am passionate about this issue because I believe high school students do not understand the potential danger they put themselves in when they rent a party bus and plan to drink,” Pengelly said. “When high school students engage in underage drinking on a party bus there is so much to lose. One bad decision can negatively affect their future, or hurt their chances of getting into college. I believe this bill is an important step to making students’ lives safer.”
The bill, which passed out of committee and will now be heard on the Senate floor, would force limousine and party bus companies to name a designee if they are carrying passengers under the age of 18. The designee would have to be at least 25 years of age and would have to make reasonable attempts to ensure compliance with underage drinking laws. If the driver of the vehicle observes or is informed of underage drinking during transportation, the trip must be terminated and the passengers returned to their point of origin.
Pengelly’s involvement in the bill coincides with her project in her Public Discourse class within the Gustavus Communication Studies Department. Public Discourse is a required entry-level course for the communication studies major. It is designed to have students engage with their communities directly, and, in that process, learn about what it takes to identify an issue, explore it through research, advocate for a way to address the issue, and learn to communicate effectively with a wide constituency within their communities. The Communication Studies Department received the 2012 Rex Mix Program of Excellence Award from the National Communication Association, largely due to the Public Discourse Program.
Another recent example of how Gustavus students are making an impact in their local communities through the Public Discourse class is sophomore Joe Thayer. Thayer’s project involved securing funding in order to place a number of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) around campus. Thayer’s work resulted in Gustavus becoming the first institute of higher education to be named a “Heart Safe Community” by Allina Health.
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