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We the People Interview Series: UMBC’s Catie Collins

By Jen Domagal-Goldman, National Manager, American Democracy Project

As part of the Civic Agency initiative, we are conducting a special “We the People” interview series. In this series, we interview intriguing people with different perspectives on the “We the People” phase of our work in ADP. This is the fifth of many interviews that will be included in this series.

Catie Collins is the President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s (UMBC’s) Student Government Association (SGA). In her spare time, she is working to complete her senior year studying Psychology, English Literature, and TED Talks.

American Democracy Project (ADP): How did you get involved in the American Democracy Project?

Catie Collins (CC): I have the incredible luck of being a part of UMBC’s flourishing legacy of civic agency work.  The idea of civic agency is really becoming embedded in both our SGA’s culture, and the culture of UMBC as a whole. Our involvement in the American Democracy Project has really been key in helping to achieve this shift. Attending the American Democracy Project Conference in June 2011 was one of my first acts in office!

ADP: Tell us how you got involved in SGA?

Catie Collins, SGA President at UMBC

CC: In my first year at UMBC, I remember feeling frustrated and powerless. I felt like a cog in the wheels of the university, helpless to change anything, expected to play my role as a student and nothing more. That turned out to be a very large assumption – and a false one – which a friend in SGA soon corrected. They challenged me to step up and create the change I wanted to see myself, rather than waiting for someone to swoop in and save the day. My curiosity was sparked – this was an SGA that didn’t just play politics, it didn’t just play the hero – it worked with students to help them create change and feel true ownership of their campus.  It’s this mission that led me to join SGA, and to eventually run for President.

ADP: What does civic agency and the “We the People” movement mean to you?

CC: Civic agency is such a tricky thing to really define – it’s something often best shared through experience. The definition that really resonates with me is this idea of really breaking down the roles we perceive ourselves to be in – professor, student, administrator – in order to really engage each other authentically. I’ve learned to engage people as partners, to really get to know them as real people, and that has led to far more effective impact than I would have ever expected.

ADP: You’re a student member of the national steering committee of the new American Commonwealth Project – a partnership among higher education institutions and associations, the White House, and federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Education, seeks to further the movement of colleges and universities as agents and architects of democracy – what role do you see yourself playing and what do you hope the project accomplishes?

CC: I’m both excited and humbled to find myself a member of the American Commonwealth Project steering committee. My hopes for both my role and the project are centered on the same goal. I would love to see this project work as a platform for a stronger student presence in the conversations surrounding civic agency. I feel that my contribution to this project will largely be work in facilitating that connection.

ADP: How do you see yourself expressing your civic agency after your graduation in spring 2012?

CC: It’s actually been my very experience with civic agency that has completely shaped my post-graduation path.  My involvement has helped me discover within myself a deep-rooted passion for education. I care so deeply about creating systems of education that promote true engagement, both in terms of the material and in terms of one’s civic engagement. I envision investing my future in exactly this kind of work.

ADP: All our best to you, Catie!

To read more about UMBC’s civic agency work, read this previous blog post, or this one.

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