Kennesaw State University
April 22, 2019
In the Summer of 2018, The Department of Student Leadership and Service at Kennesaw State University (KSU) was approached by the Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP) about hosting Fellows to support our civic learning and democratic engagement efforts on campus. CEEP is a national nonpartisan project that helps administrators, faculty, staff, and student leaders at American colleges and universities engage in federal, state, and local elections. CEEP Fellows are student leaders who help carry out CEEP activities through planning, recruitment, and implementation of specialized projects.
KSU was granted two CEEP Fellows for the Fall of 2018. Each Fellow was awarded a stipend at the completion of their term which spanned from August to December. The Fellows were recruited and screened internally by the Department of Student Leadership and Service (SLS) while final interviews were conducted by the State Representative of CEEP. The representative then made recommendations for the final selections. The process allowed our department to identify students with excellent potential to serve but removed any biases by having the State Representative conduct the interviews and provide recommendations. The State Representative also served as the point person for our Fellows once their term began which established some familiarity with this individual and the selected Fellows.
Once the Fellows were on board, we conducted a training internally to provide an overview of traditional KSU CLDE initiatives which included Constitution Week, National Voter Registration Day, Citizenship Day, the campus Democracy Walls, voter registration and education efforts, and Field Trip Friday engagement opportunities. The Fellows were introduced to the CLDE Theory of Change and challenged to consider how they might implement it in their practice. The Fellows were also required to meet one on one with the CEEP State Representative and participate in monthly webinar trainings. Collectively the Fellows were provided a great deal of tools in their toolkit but in hindsight, we learned this does not always necessarily mean they instantly know how to employ these tools. With 2018 being our first year to host CEEP Fellows, we were very fortunate that the individuals we recruited came with an eagerness to learn as well as a preexisting passion for democratic engagement.
They took action. The inaugural Campus Election Engagement Project team at Kennesaw State University with the Department of Student Leadership and Service took their positions with zeal and passion. The CEEP fellows were to lead the campus in voter registration, education, and engagement projects in creative and fun ways. When we think about civic action and how it relates to the CEEP Fellows, we think in the terms of what practices can we provide our campus that has a lasting impression or continue conversations about civic engagement. Hoffman et al (2018), mentions that “Civic action as a lifelong practice is the moral and political courage to take risks to achieve a greater public good.” (p.5) The CEEP Fellows found a niche that allowed them to host mock senatorial debates open to the student body. The student participants did not have to belong to a student organization to participate. This gave them the opportunity to have an open dialogue about the issues surrounding the campus climate and the midterm election at the time. At the first debate, there were faculty and staff support, the debaters were really engaged with the crowd, and for a 3-hour event, we still ran out of time. The success of the first debate gained traction which caused the need for a second one. To better prepare the participants for the second debate, the CEEP Fellows collaborated with the political science department to ensure that the debaters were getting proper training by meeting with a paired faculty mentor, practice run-throughs, and research efforts.
Aside from the debates, the CEEP Fellows focused their attention to other programming efforts such as the Democracy Wall promotion, social media campaigns, Vans to Vote, Field Trip Friday and interactive tabling events. At the beginning of the semester, the CEEP Fellows had the chance to meet and write down their objectives and goals based on the needs of the students. As students themselves, they both understood what it meant to know and keep up to date with current events in their community and how laws and policies affect them as well. The best form of educating the campus about the democratic engagement was through the interactive tabling events which garnered over 200 students to register to vote through the KSU TurboVote System and learn more about programs on campus to get them civically engaged.
The KSU TurboVote System was very useful in helping us track the most foot trafficked area on campus, the number of newly registered voters, and those who simply wanted to update their information. With continued support from the Department of Student Leadership and Service, the programs that the CEEP fellows initiated will continue to thrive in the years to come. The CEEP Fellows showed us the importance of having students drive civic engagement on college campuses. Peer influence and involvement opportunities like being a part of the CEEP volunteer team have been proven through the work of these students that their issues and their voice matters.
At the end of their term, the Assistant Director and Coordinator for SLS conducted an exit interview with the Fellows to learn what ways the program could be improved. As referenced earlier, the Fellows received many tools but one of our biggest takeaways was ensuring they had the training on how to use them. CEEP as well as SLS provided great content and context to support the success of the Fellows but additional training on implementation would further strengthen their efforts. Each year, SLS recruits our Advanced Leader League (ALL) which is comprised of Peer Leaders, Coordinators, Fellows (separate from CEEP), and Volunteer Ambassadors. These students collectively receive intensive training on communication, organization, teamwork, planning and implementation, and conflict management. Unfortunately, the CEEP Fellows missed the cycle when this training traditionally takes place. Moving forward, one of our focuses will be to provide the Fellows this additional training to ensure they are able to perform at their best. It is sometimes an assumption that providing students with resources is enough, but as we learned from CEEP, we also have to provide guidance on how to best use those resources.
Overall, the CEEP Fellows were a great success for the SLS department and institution as whole. They were able to galvanize campus groups that were previously polarized, delegate action across volunteer groups, and foster civic discourse. CEEP as an organization provided wonderful resources including voter registration posters, candidate guides, banners, and stickers. They were also extremely receptive to our feedback and continue to invite us to the conversation to improve our efforts as a collective. We are eager to continue building the potential that CEEP Fellows bring to our campus while also pursuing ways for these students to become more involved with CLDE initiatives nationally. We greatly appreciate the support provided by the Campus Election Engagement Project and look forward to igniting more civically engaged student leaders for the future.
Hoffman, D., Domagal-Goldman, J., King, S., & Robinson, V. (2018, June). Higher Education’s Role in Enacting a Thriving Democracy.
About CEEP. (2018). Retrieved from https://campuselect.org/
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