This story was written by Andy Greenhaw, University Daily Kansan
Kansas University students met with students from universities from 42 other states this weekend at Harvard University for the National College Conference for Political Engagement.
The conference has been held since 2004 to encourage students throughout the country to register to vote on their campuses. This was the first year for Harvard to invite the presidents of both campus political parties and a member of the media.
Handshakes, smiles and suggestions for how to get more students registered to vote on campus were often traded between the two parties.
Five students from Kansas attended the conference, including Barbara Ballard, associate director of outreach at the Dole Institute of Politics.
Students know that the 18- to 24-year-old range are important voters, Ballard said. So instead of focusing on what they already know, student leaders are focusing on civic engagement and what they are going to do to energize people on campuses to go out there and give the last big push before the elections.
Andre Dellatre, executive director of Public Interest Research Group, said that nationally, 80 percent of students who register to vote on campuses have traditionally ended up voting. He said that nationally, 25 percent of students are already registered to vote, 10 percent will not register and 15 percent will register off campus. Organizations such as Young Democrats and College Republicans are focused on signing up the remaining 50 percent who arent registered.
John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Institute of Politics, and Carl Cannon, Washington bureau chief and contributing editor for Readers Digest, spoke on the interest the 18- to 24-year-old age group has with voting. Volpes statistics show that 62 percent of the youth polled are excited about the upcoming elections.
Andrew Toth, Colby sophomore and president of KU Young Democrats, said that he learned creative tips from the convention of ways to get more students to register on campus.
There are other great things to do if our drive dries up, Toth said. Most of the creative suggestions came from the students within the conference, too, instead of the instructors.
Toth said one idea another university used was to have a life-size cut out of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for students to take photos with.
It has to be something that draws students attention, Toth said.
Jesse Vaughn, Mound City senior and president of KU College Republicans, said he mostly learned from other students at the convention.
It was interesting to hear and meet with other Republican presidents to generate different ideas, Vaughn said. Not only with registering students to vote, but also raising money and getting the name of our organization out there.
Toth and Vaughn agreed that many other campus organizations present at the conference faced barriers that Kansas doesnt have. Vaughn said that at the University of Georgia, the student organizations are not allowed to chalk but can use a washable paint instead.
The two-day sessions at the convention not only informed student leaders how to register more students at their universities to vote, but also broke the 140 students up into groups to focus on targeting the media, utilizing the Internet and creating a public service announcement for their school.
Sean Meloy, senior at Pennsylvania State University and president of College Democrats, said that although he came into the conference knowing some of the information presented, it was good to hear different viewpoints and strategies from multiple schools and people from around the country.
At Penn State well probablyalter the way the information is assimilated to the students, Meloy said. Were trying to do more online and the information on the Internet and widgets was a nice edition to the program.
Meloy said that 10,000 students had registered to vote on campus so far and his organizations goal was 20,000. The undergraduate population at Penn State is around 43,000 students, with another 5,000 graduate students, Meloy said.
Ben Myers, junior from the University of Southern California and president of College Republicans, said when he goes to a state convention he only sees students from California.
It was great to come here and speak with people from all over the country, Myers said.
Sharon Bowers, senior from the University of Hawaii and president of Students for Barack Obama, said Hawaii usually gets left out of conferences and it was great to be able to participate.
I think it would have been a little more useful a couple months ago, Bowers said of the information provided. But I will definitely be passing it on to other students in Hawaii.
Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Obama were invited to speak at the convention, but declined and sent representatives to have conference calls with students.
The weekend ended with an address by David Gergen, director of the Harvard Kennedy School for Public Leadership. Gergen left students with a strong message of serving the country and becoming engaged.
Alex Rock, Lawrence senior and consortium representative, said Gergens message was clear and important.
Its important to be civically engaged, not only for the University, but for a better community and country, Rock said. For student leaders its good to be surrounded by students. It allows us to voice our frustrations, collaborate ideas and reiterates that we still all have one common goal and thats politics and registering students to vote.