JEFFERSON CITY – A year ago, three Missouri Students Association leaders were in Jefferson City advocating for UM funding. Almost exactly a year later, the three were back, but this time, MU was recognizing them.
The three – Steven Dickherber, Ben Levin and Zach Toombs – were given the Mizzou Alumni Association’s Geyer Award, which recognizes the work of public officials and citizens who have made a positive impact on higher education at MU, according to the Mizzou Alumni Association’s website.
The three all held positions within MSA last year: Dickherber was the legislative advocacy officer, Toombs was the director of student communications and Levin was the academic affairs chairman. Dickherber and Toombs graduated in December 2012. Levin is an adviser to the current MSA executive cabinet.
Together they led the More for Less campaign against Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed 12.5 percent budget decrease in higher education funding for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
“These three were the nuts and bolts of organizing the entire effort,” Mizzou Legislative Network Chair Wally Pfeffer said.
Their efforts included compiling 6,000 letters from students, rallying 150 students and convincing senators to speak on students’ behalf.
All of it was successful when the Missouri legislature revised the budget to level funding for the university – an achievement various Missouri senators credited the MSA leaders for helping with, Jim Gwinner, the president of the Mizzou Alumni Association, said.
The Nursing Alumni Organization nominated Dickherber, Levin and Toombs for the award, and they became the first students to be given the award.
“We appreciated the influence they had,” said Judith Miller, dean of the Sinclair School.
The night in Jefferson City was a time to thank the three for their success.
“I think it gave a student voice to the issue of higher education,” said Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor of student affairs. “It was an activism and an appropriate activism: They timed it perfectly when they needed to take it to the capital and they engaged the students and sent a strong message.”
Chancellor Brady Deaton said their work represented the university by providing a firsthand testimony to legislators.
“They are honored tonight for their dedication and success,” Deaton said. “Their work shows the importance of our students’ voice, and they understood the legislature and the needs of the university.”
The three expressed humility and gratitude to be award recipients.
“I stand here almost exactly a year later, and it’s a little hard to wrap my head around,” Levin said. “And at the time, it would’ve been equally hard to believe that higher education funding one year later would appear to be in such excellent shape.”
Their work, along with the help from the student body, dispels the stereotype that students are apathetic, Levin said.
“It’s no secret that there is a stigma against college students,” Levin said. “That despite our enthusiasm, we don’t hold weight off campus, that we get lost in our idealism and our optimism. And more often than not, that’s probably true, but at Mizzou our leaders realize that any student body in the nation can be enthusiastic. We expect more than enthusiasm. We expect to be effective.”
Toombs said he hopes More for Less will have a lasting impact.
“We hope our achievements will inspire other students to think big and be unconventional,” Toombs said.
Many others also said the three leaders’ work will set a precedent.
Pfeffer cited MSA’s creation of the Legislative Advocacy Officer position, who will advocate for students in the future.
“(Someday), we can look back and say we were here when this started,” Pfeffer said. “I have high hopes this is where our future will go.”