Students Get Loud, Get Heard … and Get Fiscal

By: Athalia Markowitz | August 12, 2014

Up to Us in Texas
Up to Us in Texas

7 insiders show you how to get involved with an important issue and build your skills

So many college students want to get involved with substantive issues, but they don’t know if their efforts really make a difference – and they aren’t always sure where to start. Up to Us, a campus competition where student teams across the country compete to raise awareness about the national debt, gives students an opportunity to get loud and get heard. Through Up to Us, students get the skills they need to make an impact – oh, and the winners get to meet President Clinton.

Applications just opened to participate in Year 3 of the competition, and now is the perfect time to form a team and be a leader on your campus. But don’t just take my word for it! I caught up with a few Up to Us alumni this summer to ask them about how Up to Us affected their college experience.

Get Involved with an Issue that Matters

The national debt doesn’t get discussed outside the econ classroom, but it should.

Fabiola: “I believe it is important to understand that even though we live in the present, we have to think about the future. We are all part of a great nation, and … we have to start developing a sense of responsibility about important issues such as the economic future of our country. “

Kelsey: “Students have to demand more than just a ‘conversation’ about national debt; they need to demand a tangible, realistic plan for moving forward.”

Josh: “The national debt is absolutely our problem. Currently, ~7% of the budget is used to pay for interest on the national debt, and that number will only increase over time if the debt and deficit isn't reduced. That's hundreds of billions that could be spent on infrastructure, education/research, veterans benefits, or even better - paying down the debt.”

Danny: “The fiscal debt issue is not a partisan issue. It is about our collective future. We may differ philosophically in our visions of a good life, but we can nonetheless agree the economic imperative of scarcity. The premise of this issue finds agreement across economists of all stripes: OUR fiscal trajectory as a nation is unsustainable.”

Pictured above: Up to Us Team Leaders working together at the Net Impact Conference.  

Make a Difference

The national debt can feel like a daunting topic to address on a college campus. After all if Congress can’t address it, what difference can students make? (You might be surprised.)

Kelsey: “I wanted to join the project to raise my hand and say ‘I own this. This is my problem. This is my future. And I am going to make myself be part of the solution.’”

Gerta: “I feel that our generation is not very involved with issues that matter…My personal mission when I was involved in Up to Us was not necessarily to have everyone go out in DC and protest about the debt, but rather to help start educating my peers about this issue and begin a conversation that could eventually turn into action.”

Lena: “My participation was sparked by curiosity, but sustained by the campaign's mission and by my inspiring teammates…My teammates and I quickly realized that there's a lot to learn and share, but - quite literally - it was up to us to determine how. We were excited to join in, especially knowing that we had a supportive network at UVA and on other campuses across the nation.”

Pictured above: The University of Tennessee - Knoxville team created the largest fort box ever built on a campus to promote fiscal and environmental sustainability.

Get Leadership Skills and Connections

Students get training and support as they develop their campus campaigns and gain leadership skills amid an awesome network of peers.

Benjamin: “What I enjoyed most about participating in Up to Us was the human connection. Speaking with my peers, attending events, and lobbying superiors for support all provided many avenues for spreading the Up to Us message, as well as for personal growth.”

Gerta: “Up to Us is so much more interesting, intensive, and hands-on than any internship or job that I’ve had so far. With minimal guidance, our team had to create an action plan and execute it from start-to-finish. And that’s a big deal, because even in the best internships, students like us never really have the opportunity to get involved in so many aspects of a single project. It is very rare to have the opportunity to do so many things within a single project, and that’s why I am happy I participated, because I gained tremendous practical knowledge that I wouldn’t get anywhere else.”

Danny: “All the fantastic, brilliant people I’ve met from other college campuses throughout this competition allowed for a sense of advocacy community, support network, and new circle of friends. I appreciated learning from them throughout the competition. I was not afraid to try things I saw other team leaders were doing just for the heck of it.”

Lena: “I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from so many thoughtful and energetic people.”

Pictured above: Up to Us team leaders at CGI U 2013.

Create a Lasting Impact 

The skills and connections students gained from participating in Up to Us will have an impact for years to come.

Danny: "It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I learned more about project management and team leadership in two months than I have in all four years I have been at UT. The competition taught me a lot about working with uber-ambitious people. It taught me to be a planner, executor, fixer, improviser and cheerleader all at the same time.”

Benjamin: “Of the many skills I gained from Up to Us, the most important skill is by far the ability to spread a message. In gaining this ability, I was able to prepare for my role as the Civics Education Coordinator (Graduate Assistant) for the University of Louisville's McConnell Center.”

Kelsey: “I think one thing that I took away from the Up to Us competition was again how important it is for young people to be involved in important conversations and issues. All of the work that I do in student advocacy really depends on students wanting to see change in their universities, communities, states, and their country. I think the competition really showed me what happens when we just keep kicking the proverbial can down the road ... it doesn't solve anything--at all.”

Pictured above: The Tufts Up to Us team literally brought the elephant into the room when talking about the national debt on campus.

Want to be part of this life-changing program?

Start your application today or contact us with any questions to learn more.

About the Alumni

Kelsey Brewer (California State University, Fullerton) is a junior at CSU Fullerton and was recently appointed by Governor Jerry Brown as Student Trustee for the California State University (CSU) system – a role where she represents 440,000 CSU students.

Benjamin Gies (Bellarmine Unviersity) is the Civics Education Coordinator for the University of Louisville’s McConnel Center and James Madison Memorial Fellow. 

Gerta Gjonaj (Pace University) is a recent graduate of Pace University and is now a Research Associate at the Cardea Group in New York City)

Lena Shi (University of Virginia) led her team to win the first year of the Up to Us in 2013 competition and is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

Josh Schmunk (Oklahoma State University) will graduate in December 2014 and has already secured a job as a consultant for an oil company in Texas.

Fabiola Urgel (University of Texas- Pan American) is a senior at UTPA majoring in Economics who led her Up to Us Team to win the second year of the Up to Us competition in 2014.

Danny Zeng (University of Texas at Austin) is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and is now a Financial Analyst at Cardtronics, Inc.

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