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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.

Learning to Act

Authored by National Campaign Student Cary Kelly, Arizona State University.

Eight hours of Affordable Care Act discussion and four cups of coffee later, I felt overwhelmed. My experience was similar at the end of my service program’s last seminar, a thorough examination of immigration policy in Arizona. Though ambitious in scope and complexity, these seminars were what attracted me to the Spirit of Service Scholars (SoSS) program at Arizona State University.

For its annual cohort of undergraduate and graduate scholars, the program hosts five seminars centered on critical issues facing our state. The seminars are each structured as a day of dialogue and deliberation with professors, professionals, and policymakers, all tackling Arizona’s most pressing problems. Whether the topic is HB1070, Medicare expansion, or English Language Learners, the conversation is always interesting.

The motivation driving seminars is ASU’s desire to equip student leaders as effective change-agents on campus and in the community. However, after listening to practitioners, medical administrators, and state representatives dissect the approximately 2,400 pages of the Affordable Care Act, I was left with one daunting question: What do I do? The last seminar’s topic (immigration) was relevant to my personal and academic pursuits, but my prior interactions with health care advocacy were limited to liking quirky healthcare related posts on facebook. How could I, a newly-informed medical nobody, act on this information?

After talking to my scholar peers, I learned that I was not mired in this quandary alone. We all felt empowered by these seminars, but we lacked an outlet for action. Unfortunately, eight hours of intense health care conversation did not make us credible health care advocates; personally, I felt less qualified to tackle health care reform after the event. Nevertheless, I wanted to do something before my health care opinions disintegrated into the sound bites and 140 character snippets that previously substantiated my ACA expertise. A few Google Docs and group emails later, I had received enough feedback from the group to devise a self-imposed “call to action” for our program.

Our plan is fairly humble. It’s comprised of three parts, which apply to each seminar: 1) live web streaming, 2) publishing a post-seminar editorial article and 3) attending a seminar-related community event or meeting. Each component is intended to expand seminar involvement and draws upon themes circulating at the recent Harvard Institute of Politics National Campaign Conference: connecting actors and spreading impact.

Rather than create a new, flashy event to promote our program, we decided on a subtler, more dynamic approach. We want to affect change, but we don’t want to be redundant. At Arizona State University, with its 76,000 students, it is hard to create anything without duplicating others’ efforts. For our program, we decided the best way to expand impact was through supporting the real experts and strategically contributing to public issue dialogue.

With a little bit of technology, writing, and extra time, we hope to convert some of the intellectual potential energy of our program into kinetic action directed towards bolstering existing efforts. After our next seminar on Arizona K-12 education, we may not be able to offer a panacea for Arizona’s education woes, but we will be able to share how we are acting on what we have learned.

Cary Kelly is an undergraduate student studying Economics and Global Politics at Arizona State University. He is interested in education policy, non-profit startups and U.S.-Mexico Relations. In his spare time, he enjoys quirky art projects, cooking experiments, and long-distance running.