“I remember sitting, looking at the national debt clock projected on the smart board and realizing how much of an issue this is,” said Brittany Brown, a top ten finalist in the national “Up to Us” competition to encourage fiscal responsibility.
During the latest episode of “Facing the Future,” we took a deep dive into the college-campus-based competition. I spoke with two team leaders, Brown and Evan Rufrano, who participated in the competition, as well as Megan Shea, the associate program director at Net Impact who is responsible for facilitating it.
Up to Us is a non-partisan initiative that empowers millennials to promote fiscal sustainability and have their voices heard on the national debt.
“As the political climate on many campuses in the U.S. has gotten incredibly divisive,” Shea said, “I think that Up to Us has been able to distinguish itself as being a place where divisive words and actions aren’t useful, and where we’re promoting a different way of solving big issues.”
She also said that the Up to Us competition has been experiencing a rapid rise over the six years since its inception, with approximately 300 campuses, across all 50 states, now involved in some capacity.
“The thing I loved the most about the program is that it’s not really a one-size-fits-all,” said Rufrano, leader of the team that won this year’s competition. “You are able to be creative about what you engage students about.”
Both Rufrano and Brown emphasized the importance of creativity in their initiatives, and it paid off for both teams.
Nearly 1,600 students participated in a unique hands-on experience put on by Rufrano’s team at State University of New York at Old Westbury. “We created ‘Debt Boulevard’ and we wrote down statistics, definitions and graphs all over campus, so with every step that they took, they learned something about fiscal policy and the national debt,” Rufrano said.
His team also facilitated a variety of events to present information in a fashion attractive to people with different learning styles.
Brown and her team from Middlesex Community College in Bedford, Massachusetts, tackled the challenge of student engagement on a commuter campus.
Brown said that over 300 students attended an event her team facilitated and that faculty and members of their student government were impressed and curious how her team was able to generate such a high level of engagement.
“Our goal was to make something (the national debt) that was kind of dry and difficult to grasp exciting and fun,” she said.
During Facing the Future, both Brown and Rufrano called on members of Congress to acknowledge the importance of addressing our nation’s fiscal challenges because of their impact on current and future generations.
Shea pointed to a variety of factors that have caused the popularity of Up to Us to grow. Chief among them: the growth of the national debt and students’ abilities to associate it with other issues they care deeply about.
I host “Facing the Future” each week on WKXL Concord News Radio (N.H.), which is also available via podcast. Join us as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, elected officials and candidates for public office. Past broadcasts are available here. You can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play or through RSS.