Political Science Students Honored with Student Engagement Award for Fall Election Initiative

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – As this year’s presidential Election Day approaches, a trio of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi students are working to educate young voters on the importance of their impact. Joshua Garcia, Emily Maldonado, and Anthony Ortiz, Islander political science majors led by mentor Dr. Sanne Rijkhoff, Assistant Professor of Political Science, earned a $2,000 award from the Texas Voting Summit’s Votes & Videos competition – a project spearheaded by the Campus Vote Project.

The award, inspired to push the boundaries of voter engagement at institutions of higher education, is intended to help students provide information about registration for voting, explain the process of voting in Texas, and inform students about the races and elections on the ballot this coming November. Among the uses of the award is the distribution of Safe Voting Kits to Islander students that include information about ID requirements, and hand sanitizer, along with a mask to ensure that everyone can cast their ballot safely. The winning students also attended this year’s virtual Texas Voting Summit.

“The majority of the college student population consists of those within the Generation Z and Millennial age group and together we are estimated to have the largest share of eligible voters in the 2020 general election,” Maldonado said. “Generation Z and Millennials have the power to shift our democracy and make a difference in our community. Thus, it is vital that we mobilize as many students as we can.”

The Texas Voting Summit, organized by undergraduate and graduate students of the University of Texas at Austin with the help of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, invited students and faculty members from Texas colleges and universities to learn about Texas’ low civic participation rates and how to develop or update campus plans to increase campus and community civic participation.

“It was so constructive to be able to collaborate with other individuals to strategize and advocate for a university-wide participatory culture,” Garcia said. “Learning how to analyze our campus’ National Study of Learning and Voter Engagement report was interesting. It is broken down by election and individual demographics, allowing you to decide what groups to target to increase voting.”

As part of the award application process, the students were required to provide an action plan, a three-minute video describing civic engagement on their prospective campus, and a social media post that included the group’s long-term voter engagement goals.

“I am incredibly proud of Joshua, Emily, and Anthony, as they’ve worked very hard and with a lot of enthusiasm towards this. The award is well deserved,” Rijkhoff said. “Their commitment in the democratic process is inspiring, and this funding will help the team implement their nonpartisan plan of voting rights awareness. Specifically, it will allow them to make sure that an unprecedented pandemic is not a barrier to students to exercise their right to vote.”

In addition to the award, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi was also chosen to participate in the Campus Vote Project’s Democracy Fellowship Program. The program seeks out politically interested students who are passionate about democratic engagement who will help engage their peers in nonpartisan dialogue and activities around democracy, including voting. Ortiz and Islander political science student Colleen Grace were selected for the two fellowships at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, which each offer a $500 stipend.

“Having the change to attend the Texas Voting Summit opened my eyes to all of the resources that can help make sure that every single person is able to practice their right to vote,” Ortiz said. “I am excited to fulfill this role and continue the implementation of our action plan for our campus. It is an exciting time with the upcoming presidential election and our goal is to get as many students on campus to register to vote and then to go out to the polls and vote.”  

The trio of Islander students says they hope to continue promoting their action plan throughout the remainder of the fall semester to educate students and demolish barriers in voting for future generations of Islanders to come.

“Our long-term goal is to provide TAMU-CC students with the information and skills to become active and responsible citizens who are sharing a culture of civic engagement that moves beyond the classroom and into the community,” they said.