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Students launch campaign on federal debt awareness

Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 15:01

Five students are running a month-long campaign to raise awareness about the federal debt as part of the second annual national Up to Us competition.

Up to Us is a nonpartisan, apolitical competition among schools organized by Net Impact, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative to bring attention to the national debt, according to the Up to Tufts Team Leader Josh Youner.

“They came together, all three of those organizations,” Youner, a senior, said. “The national debt is a huge problem — how do we tackle it? Who are the change-makers going to be? They answered both those questions with a start on the college campuses.”

This is the first time Tufts is participating in the competition. Of the 24 schools involved, Tufts is the only one in the Boston area, Youner said.

Senior Nicole Hatton, a member of Up to Tufts, said that the idea to form a Tufts team came last semester from Lecturer of Economics Christopher McHugh. The team also includes seniors Jake McCauley and Michael Maggiore, and junior Becky Goldberg.

“He’s [McHugh] very well educated about the economy, especially the national debt, and he’s very passionate about that,” Hatton said. “He’s an advisor to us. We’re doing everything, but we sort of run things by him. His knowledge has really helped us get started.”

To enter the competition, the Up to Tufts team in late September submitted an online application that included their campaign plan, how they would raise awareness on campus and why the issue is meaningful to the team, Youner said.

The team was notified that they had been accepted a week later, and began team training via weekly webinars that Net Impact organized, Goldberg said.

In November, the team submitted a campaign proposal and budget. Each team received $2,000 to use during the competition, Youner said.

The campaign includes activities ranging from keynote speakers, to civic engagement with petitions or letters, to public visibility with blogs and media outreach. Youner said that the two mandatory activities include creating a Facebook page and a YouTube video.

A key criterion of the competition is getting the highest number of students to take a short quiz testing their knowledge of the federal debt, Youner said.

“The idea behind the quiz is [that it’s] a standard thing among schools, and so you’re competing not based on how many kids get the questions right,” he said. “You’re competing based on how far your reach is, just the pure number of people who take it.”

Sixty-eight Tufts students had taken the quiz as of press time. Hatton hopes that thousands will have taken it by the time the campaign ends on Feb. 21. 

“[The] quiz gets students thinking and realizing how little they know,” Hatton said. “I mean, I’ve had a few friends take it, getting one out of five answers right. You realize how much you don’t know is going on with our country’s money. We’re just trying to get the dialogue started on campus.”

Another campaign initiative includes bringing to campus Professor of Economics at Boston University Laurence Kotlikoff and CEO of Avenue Capital Marc Lasry, who will be giving lectures on Feb. 10 and Feb. 19, Hatton and Goldberg said.

Youner said that in terms of civic engagement, the team hopes to partner with Tufts Democrats and Tufts Republicans, as well as work with the Institute for Global Leadership on creating an educational workshop about the debt.

Board members of the Clinton Global Initiative University and the Peterson Foundation judge the campaign proposals and final reports, Youner said.

“There’s going to be one big winner,” Hatton said. “But there [are] opportunities to win in other ways. There are a few different avenues of getting recognized in the competition.”

The winning team will meet Bill Clinton in Phoenix, Ariz., and receive a $10,000 cash prize, Hatton said.

“If our group won, that [would be] really great for Tufts to get our name out there and show we’re really committed to social responsibility,” Hatton said. “I think it’s important [to] showcase [that] Tufts is a very well-educated school ... We’re really hoping to bring the gold back to Tufts.”

Although there are several opportunities for recognition in the competition, Goldberg stressed that the campaign is not about winning.

“Our motivation isn’t for the money,” she said. “It’s just important that people realize it really affects everyone no matter what your position is, no matter where you come from.”

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