Posts Tagged 'We the People'

Student Spotlight: UW-La Crosse’s Katie Svitavsky, City Council Member

By Katherine Kvitavsky, student, UW-La Crosse

Katherine Svitavsky

Where I go to school, everyone is involved in something. From intramural sports to marching band to diversity organizations, students in La Crosse are known for being active and engaged. It is, in part, because of this culture of service that I chose to be involved in our city government, representing a mostly-student district on the City of La Crosse Common Council. A year ago, I had just begun my first semester at UW-L. A year ago, if someone told me that I soon would be an elected official, I wouldn’t have believed them. But here I am, now entering my second year as a student, my first year as a resident assistant, and serving as a city council member.

I first chose to get involved on campus by representing students who lived in my residence hall in our campus Residence Hall Association (RHA). My job, along with my co-representative, was to be a voice for the 400 students living in my building. This experience was unique because it challenged me to think about policy and how it affected not only students living in my building but also all students on campus. Additionally, representing students in this capacity gave me valuable leadership skills, knowledge, and experience to represent them in our City Council, and I can’t give my time working with RHA enough credit for the impact it had on me.

As I meet and work with more people, I constantly am amazed at how driven they are and the  awesome, inspirational things of which they have been a part.  One of the many people I have had the privilege of meeting and working with is Karin Johnson, who I first met in a public administration class during my first semester at UW-L. Representing the campus area on our county board, I first remember being impressed with Karin’s physically being in the position, but as I became more familiar with her, what really struck me was how energetic and passionate she was about local issues.

One day in spring, Karin asked me to take a look at the open City Council position. The person who had the position before me was also a UW-L student who was graduating that year, and had resigned in April, leaving a space in the Council to be filled by appointment to fill out his term ending in April 2013. I was on the fence for a while about whether or not to apply for the position, especially considering the time commitments—trying to balance being a student, resident assistant, and council member is something that is still challenging for me at times. Additionally, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I hadn’t had much experience working with a city outside of the classroom; there was an obvious learning curve associated with the position. After some serious self-evaluation and encouragement from my peers and others, I decided to submit my resume to the Council. I was granted an interview, and then was appointed in May to the position.

As a council member, I attend a lot of meetings. I never understood the concept of “government work being done in committees” until I was assigned to the Finance and Personnel committee, where we work on, examine, and discuss proposed legislation and then bring it to the rest of the council. Additionally, I work with members of the community, non-profit groups, city employees, and other council members to shape policy for the community as well as policy specific to my district. I love the job because I get to see my and others’ efforts come to fruition, and there are tangible results from action the city takes, which is why I am running in April to keep on the council after my appointment officially ends.

When Karin suggested I take a look at the open position, I was skeptical. At first I questioned, “why me?”  when the real question should have been, “why not me?” I think so often young people, especially young women, have difficulty quantifying and articulating their skills—not only to themselves but also to others. Simply put, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for not only what we have done and are doing, but also for what we will be achieving in the future. Even if we don’t have an exact picture of our future, it is important to be energized and confident in what we will achieve.

But with our opportunities and successes comes a great responsibility. Just as I didn’t become involved without the encouragement of others, future leaders also need to have that same support. Just as Karin extended her hand to me, I cannot leave without extending my hands to others.

At times being a council member, in combination with being a student and a resident assistant, is stressful. There are times when I wish I could press “pause” and take the day—or week—off. But the rewards of this job far outweigh the stressful times, and I am constantly energized by the work I am a part of because I truly feel I am making a positive difference in the community. What I learned in this past year, the thing that has been proven to me one hundred times over, the best “tip for success” I can offer, is that there are so many opportunities to be taken advantage of if we can take ownership of the fact that we are worthy of them as well as the challenges they present. It may not always be easy, but it will be worth the effort.


About Katie:

Originally from Neenah, WI, Katherine Svitavsky is a student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse perusing degrees in Political Science and Public Administration. She currently represents the 5th district of the city of La Crosse on the city’s Common Council, and is also a Resident Assistant on campus. In her spare time, Katherine enjoys kayaking, hiking, reading, and listening to music.

ADP joins American Commonwealth Partnership focused on Civic Mission of Higher Education

The American Democracy Project is proud to join the American Commonwealth Partnership, a collaborative national effort to advance the civic mission of higher education. In the guest blog post below, longtime ADP partner and civic learning and democratic engagement advocate Harry Boyte describes the initial partners, goals and efforts of this partnership.

I encourage American Democracy Project students, faculty, staff and community partners to consider submitting short videos or ideas for guest blog posts for the social media campaign that Harry outlines below. I’d love to see ADP efforts spotlighted in this endeavor to ensure that higher education is preparing informed, engaged citizens for our democracy and embracing our role as stewards of place. Please email me directly at domagalj@aascu.org with any materials you’d like me to pass on to the new DemocracyU website that will be launched next week as part of these collaborative efforts.

All my best,

Jen

Jen Domagal-Goldman, National Manager, American Democracy Project

American Commonwealth Partnership For Democracy’s Future: A Coordinated Effort to Reclaim the Civic Mission of Higher Education

By Harry Boyte, Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship

American colleges and universities attract millions of students from across the world. As Anthony Grafton writes in New York Review of Books (11/24/11), “at every level…dedicated professors are setting students on fire with enthusiasm for everything from the structure of crystals to the structure of poems.” Yet Grafton’s review of recent books with titles like Academically Adrift and Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given up on the Meaning of Life, also tells a sobering tale. These books detail declines in teaching, detachment from communities, and re-branding of higher education as a ticket to private wealth not public contribution. “The hordes of forgotten students who leave the university…uninspired by their courses, wounded in many cases by what they experience as their own failures, weighed down by their debts, need to be seen and heard.”

On January 10th, the American Commonwealth Partnership (ACP) will hear these students. ACP is a broad alliance of higher education, P-12 schools and educational groups, philanthropies, businesses and others, part of a coordinated effort with the White House Office of Public Engagement, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Department of Education, to begin a year of activity called, “For Democracy’s Future – Reclaiming Our Civic Mission.” ACP’s role is to “deepen the civic identity” of educational institutions, moving engagement from activities to strong commitments to education as a public good.

The American Commonwealth Partnership, launched on September 7th in New York at a meeting hosted by Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Syracuse University, grows out of the American Democracy Project, as well as work with the National Conference on Citizenship, The Democracy Commitment among community colleges, Campus Compact, Imagining America, NERCHE, the Anchoring Institutions Task Force and other engagement efforts. It stresses the role of colleges and universities as stewards of place and anchoring institutions within diverse local ecologies of civic learning. ACP was organized over the past six months by Harry Boyte working with Cantor and other presidents, including Brian Murphy, President of De Anza College, M. Christopher Brown, President of Alcorn State University, Tom Ehrlich, President Emeritus of Indiana University, Freeman Hrabowski, President of UMBC, Paul Pribbenow, President of Augsburg College, and Judith Ramaley, President of Winona State University. It is coordinated by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, a long time partner with ADP in its Civic Agency Initiative.

The launch will showcase “champions of change” across higher education and among P-12 partners, including leaders in Public Achievement, a youth civic empowerment initiative, from Western Kentucky University and Northern Arizona University. The launch will also release a report, Crucible Moment – Civic Learning and Democracy’s Future, which AAC&U and its advisors have prepared for the Department of Education. The report calls for civic learning to become a “pervasive ethos,” not a marginal activity.  ACP activities will unfold in the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act which created land-grant institutions, once “democracy colleges.” ACP champions the democracy spirit for all of education. Three initiatives are already underway:

Social Media Campaign:  Working with JumpStart Productions, producer of NOW on PBS, ACP is developing a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, beginning December 7th, with the DemocracyU website on CIRCLE, the youth civic research center. ACP will sponsor a national competition of student/faculty-produced short (5-min) videos, each profiling a civic initiative. Coaching for video teams will be provided using an interface on YouTube. Finalists will be chosen by a distinguished panel, and online voting will determine the winner. ACP will leverage connections made through the project to cultivate vigorous dialogue on its website and through social media platforms. The social media will also support the deliberative dialogue campaign.

National Deliberative Dialogues: ACP will organize deliberative dialogues in partnership with the National Issues Forums and the Kettering Foundation on higher education’s role in American society, building on research by Public Agenda, about public opinion on higher education. The deliberative process will include an easy to use toolkit; online and onsite training and work with schools and associations in advance; a designated time period in Spring 2012 for discussions, and many ways to report back the results to the nation.

Civic Science and STEM Education: Planning is underway with the Delta Center at the University of Iowa, Molly Jahn with the College of Life and Agricultural Sciences at U-WISC and former deputy undersecretary for education at USDA, and Joel Thierstein, Senior Advisor on STEM initiatives at DoED, for a Civic Science STEM initiative, promoting curricular and co-curricular reform that combines STEM and civic agency education.

For a more detailed description of the goals, aims and contexts of the American Commonwealth Partnership, take a look at this Word document: For Democracy’s Future Star Diagram.

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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