Simpson Students Study Political, Civic Engagement at Harvard

In this partisan era, is it possible to promote a campus climate of constructive civic engagement and student participation in politics?

Two Simpson students spent a recent weekend examining this question at the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School in the hope finding out how to do so.

Sophomores Casey Nickel and Abby Schulte participated in the annual conference of the National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement during the weekend of Feb. 2-4. They were accompanied by Seth Andersen, director of the Culver Center.

This year’s conference program focused on catalyzing broader student participation in political dialogue and engagement on college campuses. Participants identified processes and strategies to support open, diverse and inclusive political conversations that can provide first steps toward reconnecting college students and Americans who often see no common ground.

Nickel, who graduated from Ankeny Centennial High School, and Schulte, whose hometown is Keota, Iowa, are Culver Fellows at Simpson College. The Culver Center promotes civic engagement and student participation in politics.

“We are excited to explore this year’s theme – civil discourse – with students from all over the country,” said Eloise Kaehny. Harvard College ’19 and National Campaign Committee Chair, in her welcoming remarks to students representing 30 colleges and universities from across the nation.

The National Campaign Conference is a unique opportunity for diverse perspectives to converge and for students to explore productive and effective methods of dialogue which they can bring back to their respective campuses.

Since 2003, the IOP-led alliance has held annual conferences to identify collaborative projects, foster engagement in electoral politics, assist students in pursuing careers in public service and provide a foundation in civic education.

Led by a team of Harvard undergraduate students, the collegiate ambassadors to the National Campaign work together to achieve concrete goals, such as working with local election offices to improve the voting experience for their campus communities.

Nickel said although she and Schulte are on the opposite ends of the political spectrum, they share a desire to get more students involved politically.

“Abby and I were excited to attend the National Campaign conference at Harvard with Seth Andersen and engage with other students from across the country in respectful, open dialogue about the biggest challenges facing our nation and the world,” she said.

Schulte agreed.

“Our generation has an opportunity to forge a new spirit of bipartisanship and a commitment to problem-solving over scoring political points against the other side. I am delighted to partner with Casey and our peers in the National Campaign conference in pursuit of these goals.”

Andersen, the Culver Center director, said, “It is a great privilege for Culver Fellows to participate in the annual National Campaign conference organized by the Harvard Institute of Politics. Sen. John C. Culver served with great distinction on the IOP Board and led the Institute as annual director at the same time he established the Culver Center at Simpson College in 2010.

“His vision to create a public policy center at Simpson, based on the IOP model, has given our students remarkable opportunities to contribute to a national dialogue on public service and civic engagement.”

National Campaign conference participating academic institutions include Allegheny College, Arizona State University, Colby College, Davidson College, Elon University, Florida International University, Franklin and Marshall College, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Howard University, Louisiana State University, Mercer University, Ohio State University, Rutgers University, Saint Anselm College, Simpson College, Spelman College, Tennessee State University, Tufts University, University of Chicago, University of Delaware, University of Florida, University of Louisville, University of North Carolina, University of Oklahoma, University of Rochester, University of Southern California, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, University of Texas, Austin, University of Utah and the University of Virginia.