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Practical Politics: Students find new opportunities for civic engagement

Posted on September 21, 2012.

Students at High Point University have discovered this year that politics and elections go beyond blazers and buttons. Through the HPU Democracy USA Project, they have attended the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, filmed a reality show that asks “What is the American Dream?” and many are registering to vote for the first time through registration drives being held on campus.

These experiences have created students that are actively engaged in politics, something that will benefit them throughout life. Students who attended both national conventions say they now understand more about politics from a 360-degree perspective.

“One of the best experiences I had during the conventions was getting the chance to interact with people,” says Lenae’ Frazier, a communication major. “Whether it was with protesters, politicians, or business owners, it was fascinating to hear about how people felt and why they felt that way. I’m thankful for the opportunity to get a peek inside of America’s political process.”

“This has by far been the most incredible experience of my life,” says John Marsicano, another communication major who attended the conventions and worked on the cast and crew of the American Dream Project. The project is a reality-based series developed by an HPU professor, and its purpose is to interview citizens and political issues about some of the most pressing issues of the election while asking, “Is the American Dream attainable?” The series is expected to be finished by December.

“I was able to take what I’ve learned in the classroom and apply those skills around some of the most influential figures in the world at the conventions,” Marsicano adds.

Taking the experiences and turning them into something practical is important as well and for senior Sarah Martin, which she plans to do by voting.

“I saw firsthand how important it is to vote,” says Martin, who worked as an embedded reporter for Fox 8, the Piedmont Triad Fox affiliate, during both conventions. “I think some people my age don’t realize that every vote counts and that you can make a difference. The experience I had at the Democratic and Republican conventions was unprecedented. The hands-on job experience with Fox 8 is something that I could’ve never learned inside the classroom. It was well worth my time and hard work.”

HPU’s Volunteer Center is also providing a way for students to register to vote. Oct. 13 is the last day to register to vote in North Carolina. There are eight voter registration drives on campus, two having already passed and six more to follow. Voting for the first time in a presidential election is a monumental moment, and asserting that right to vote is a privilege that many students are excited to take advantage of.

For freshman Cailin Beck, traveling home to South Lake, Texas to vote on Nov. 6 won’t be an option, so she decided to register to vote in Guilford County through a registration drive held on campus. Beck says she is extremely involved in politics. Topics that she has paid attention to the most are national debt and women’s rights.

Senior finance major Tyler Heaggans also registered to vote in Guilford County. “My vote does count, he says. “I’m an independent and I’m open-minded. I care the most about the economy and the debt factor.”

Their votes may be increasingly important as North Carolina is a swing state, and political campaigns have been battling for votes here.

“This has been a closely watched state from early in the 2012 election cycle,” says Martin Kifer, director of the HPU Poll and assistant professor of political science. “Recent polls show that North Carolina is still a toss-up state in the presidential election.”

Gail Tuttle, vice president for the office of student life, helped organize the voter registration drives because she recognizes the importance of student involvement.

“This is an election year and, for many college students, it is their first time they are eligible to vote in a presidential election. We want to always embrace our civic duty and teach life lessons to our students and provide such opportunities for them. This goes hand in hand with our Democracy USA Project and represents one more example of applying what you learn in the classroom.”

For more about the Democracy USA Project, see http://www.highpoint.edu/democracy-usa/

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