This is the third in a series highlighting our fall fellows, who will be completing their term at the end of December. Sophie S. has served as a Fall Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. Below, she answers questions about her experience.
Why did you decide to make the commitment to become a fellow?
I decided to apply for the fall fellowship program because I felt that it was my responsibility to try to engage my campus politically. I was disappointed in 2010, when only 160 out of 3,000 residents voted at the polling location on campus. It was this disappointing turnout that inspired me to get involved. The politicians we are supposed to be voting on are making policy decisions that affect us directly. In 2008, young voters were a crucial part of the election and in 2012 the youth vote will again be an integral part of winning. Young voters will be influential not only in the voting booth, but by becoming re-invigorated by the President's message during the campaign. I believe the fall fellows program has definitely helped me realize this.
What do you think the benefit was of being a fellow instead of just a volunteer?
The fall fellowship program provided an extra level of support compared to being a volunteer. Throughout the semester, we had many hours of training. We were constantly engaged with the campaign at the national level through conference calls. Many of these were with special guests, including President Obama!
What was your most rewarding experience working as a fellow?
The most rewarding experience was getting over 150 freshmen students registered in just four days. Many of the students who registered were excited to do so, because not only had they not been contacted before, but they also recognized that this was their chance to be heard.
How have you grown as an organizer since first joining the fellow program?
I think that this program has made me more aware of what it takes to run a campaign, and the techniques for getting consistent engagement and enthusiasm. I have grown more confident in expressing myself on social issues and policies that I am passionate about in one-on-ones with new volunteers. I am also finding new ways to get more individuals involved.
If you had to describe the program to a friend, how would you describe it?
The program is a rewarding experience where you can clearly see the results of your work. I can tell that the phone calls I make and the conversations I have are definitely helping as we continue to build the volunteer infrastructure here in St Louis. The team size and volunteer base in St. Louis has grown dramatically over the past 3 months, and we are working to continue that growth!
The fellow program can be a very trying experience at times. What did you learn most about yourself and the campaign process?
I think through the fall fellow's program, I learned more about what it means to be an active member of a community. At times it was difficult to do all the organizing on campus while making sure I got my school work done. However, the important long term goals of the campaign kept me going strong, and made me more effective in both capacities because of the limited time. I learned that there is so much more to a campaign than the month leading up to Election Day. The year out campaign work is equally important.
What do you see yourself doing in spring of 2012? What is your number one priority as a spring fellow?
Next spring, I see myself continuing to work as a spring fellow, and building more relationships on campus with student groups and active student body members. We need to get more students involved on campus, and from different parts of campus. I intend to speak at multiple Student groups' general body meetings toward the beginning of the semester, where I will hopefully meet new volunteers that have not yet become involved in the campaign.
What do you feel are the unique political challenges and possibilities facing youth in 2012?
One challenge facing youth today is that they think they don't have the time to make a commitment to the campaign. If you can commit one or two hours a week, you are making a significant difference. Those hours can be spent doing volunteer outreach to help build teams in new neighborhoods, it can be spent registering dozens of new voters, or reaching out to let others know what is going on with the campaign.
Why is it critical for youth to get engaged in 2012?
It is so important that today's youth becomes engaged in the 2012 campaign because the majority of the policy decisions that are being made right now are going to directly affect us. The economic policies that come out of the next four years are going to be affecting the job market that we will soon be entering. The debt that students have been accumulating over the past few years has to be paid off, enterhe new policies that have been made have made it easier and more manageable. While the politics of Washington seem so far removed, voting and getting involved in the campaign is one way to make a tangible difference.