Roughly 20,000 students attend Hennepin Technical College's two campuses in Eden Prairie and Brooklyn Park. Four years ago, campus staff members noticed many had trouble understanding the Affordable Care Act.
"Not understanding that it's the law and you'll have to pay a fine if you're not insured," said Jessica Lauritsen, director of student life and career development. "And also, how do you get health insurance? Our students were having a lot of questions about how to get health insurance. Who would qualify for what type of insurance?"
With so many students raising questions, Lauritsen decided to do something about it.
"We started to do an education campaign on campus around getting access to health care and then talking at every new student orientation about the law and needing insurance," Lauritsen said.
In the years since, Hennepin Tech has expanded its efforts, helping hundreds of students in the process.
Then, this past November, Lauritsen heard about an initiative called the "White House Healthy Campus Challenge," which encouraged colleges to do programming around health insurance.
"I got an email from Jess saying, we should sign up for this challenge, the White House Healthy Campus Challenge," said Brenna Hucka. "And we're already doing a lot of work around MNsure and the Affordable Care Act."
So sign up they did, and a month later, Lauritsen received an email from the White House.
"On Dec. 22 we were sent an email saying 'congratulations, you're being invited to the White House and Michelle Obama will be there to deliver remarks for your work around the healthy campus initiative."
On Jan. 13, Lauritsen joined other representatives from Hennepin Technical College at the White House, where they were honored for their work with the Affordable Care Act.
"It was really rewarding to be there during the last week of the Obama administration," Lauritsen said.
It's a memory that will last a lifetime, even as the future of the Affordable Care Act hangs in the balance.
"Yeah we're paying close attention to what changes will happen so that we can meet the needs for our students," Lauritsen said.
Hennepin Technical college is one of 60 colleges around the nation that were honored at the White House last week. The only other Minnesota college to be recognized at the event was Augsburg.
Jan. 20, 2017