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Public Service Project posts highlight students at colleges and universities across the country within the IOP’s National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement who are improving their communities through public service on their campuses.  As there are many different ways in which one can serve the public, the IOP aims to feature a broad collection of Campaign student public service experiences to inspire all of us to make a difference every day.

Authored by National Campaign student from UT Austin Chelsea O'Hara.

After attending the conference at Harvard’s IOP in October, I have been involved in several events on the University of Texas at Austin campus where I engaged in public service and advocacy action.

I attended the Texas Tribune Festival on UT campus as a volunteer for the Annette Strauss Institute on Civic Life. Most of my time at the festival, I was tabling in the ‘Students at the Festival’ lounge where we registered students to vote and exchanged opinions with other students on relevant Texas political and civic issues. This was an especially important event because, after all the voter ID law legislation, many students were confused about what information they needed to bring with them to vote and what information they needed to update before voting. 

It was troublesome to think about all the students not attending the festival that we missed clarifying the voter ID issue to, but we were proud that we were able to break down the bills and facts for easy comprehension.

Additionally, I recently attended and volunteered at the Texas Conference on Civic Life, sponsored by the Annette Strauss Institute. It was based off the findings of the Texas Civic Health Index, created by the Annette Strauss Institute (who helps fund and run UT Votes events). This event was quite educational as an open discussion took place between knowledgeable professionals in various fields from around Texas, with much room for audience engagement. Yet, beyond all the knowledge I acquired, my favorite part was the New Politics Forum Political Pub Quiz we had at a local bar just off campus. 

At the IOP conference, we talked about encouraging nonpartisan involvement in comfortable environments so people feel secure in expressing their opinions, no matter how unalike it is from the general consensus. Translating this discussion into action, the pub quiz was a success not only because it was great event to be super nerdy at while meeting new people, but also because the pub setting encouraged a more relaxed atmosphere for open dialogue.

In addition to the events I myself have volunteered at, our organization UT Votes has continued to keep up a Twitter, Facebook, and blog presence. We frequently link to articles and events related to the mission of UT Votes and nonpartisan civic engagement. Our blog, utvotesaustin.blogspot.com, did snapshots of the four candidates running in the Texas House District 50 special election. We hope to continue creating educational content on these social media websites.

Finally, I have tried to adopt the lessons we learned at the Conference on engagement and advocacy into my daily lifestyle. Rather than jump to conclusions about certain people or their student organizations, I have been working to educate myself more by interacting with those of differing views.

 

Chelsea O’Hara is Vice President of UT Votes, a nonpartisan student organization at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a Junior studying Plan II Honors, Government, and French. Raised with an appreciation for grassroots political organization, local politics, and a belief in civic engagement, Chelsea hopes she can help foster dialogue among the student body surrounding issues affecting students today.