From Hinckley to Harvard: Institute of Politics officials say civic engagement is a struggle for all universities

The U’s Hinckley Institute of Politics claims its internship program is the country’s best, and now Ivy League schools are following its lead.

On Nov. 5 and 6, four Hinckley staff members-Bryson Morgan, Courtney McBeth, Jacqueline Huntsman and Kirk Jowers-visited Harvard University for a skills training conference called the National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement.

“There was a big focus on bridging the gap between service and political involvement,” Morgan said. “There’s a huge disconnect there. Students are more involved in direct service, but less likely to get involved in politics.”

A Harvard survey of college undergraduates conducted in October of 2002 found that nearly two-thirds of college students say they have recently volunteered in community service; 89 percent of this group volunteered in high school. However, less than 10 percent of undergraduates nationwide have volunteered on a political campaign. Although the 18-to-24-year-olds turned out in the strongest voting force for more than a decade last year, colleges have been struggling to maintain students’ interest in politics.

“Hosting this conference allows us to bring some of the best researchers together with student leaders who are turning new research into action on each of their campuses,” said Harvard’s Institute of Politics Director Jeanne Shaheen in a news release.

Morgan said the Hinckley Institute is working with other campus organizations, including the Bennion Center and VoteProject, to fix this trend locally through a high-school outreach program that teaches the importance of civic engagement.

In addition, the Hinckley Institute Student Alliance has worked on campus to bring together various political forces into one combined effort.

“(It’s) done an amazing job of engaging students in politics and elections, and our involvement with Harvard’s National Campaign has heightened the University of Utah on the national scene of political engagement,” McBeth said in a news release.

Huntsman said the conference renewed some of her ideas and enthusiasm, and it helped think about ways to connect the Hinckley Institute to different majors.

“They talked about how student leaders tend to be from one narrow group and how to reach out,” Huntsman said. “We want to connect people to politics because it affects every one of our lives.”

Two administrators and two students from the Hinckley Institute participate in the all-expense paid Harvard trip twice each year.

Morgan attended last year and said the sessions focused on voter registration because it was an election year.

The U earned an invitation to join 20 other schools at the conference when Kirk Jowers, Steve Ott and Ron Hrebenar-then acting as part of the interim leadership of the Hinckley Institute along with Dan Jones-visited Harvard, NYU and Rutgers along with other campuses touting the Hinckley Institute’s internship program.

“When they found all the things the Hinckley Institute was doing and realized our internship program was the best in the country, it was a great way for us to stand out as a flagship institution with Ivy League schools,” Jowers said.

Morgan said it was a relief to see the entire nation face the same issues as the U.

“We’re all assessing the same problems, and the obstacles to civic engagement are the same across the country,” Morgan said. “We’re seeing what can be done to get over those obstacles.”

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