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Students compete to raise awareness of U.S. crisis

By Danielle Raykhinshteyn, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 30, 2013

A group of University students are gearing up to compete with some of the best universities in the United States — but they’re not playing sports: they’re trying to raise awareness about the nation’s fiscal crisis.

Up to Us, a competition sponsored by non-profits Net Impact, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative University, has 10 universities competing to promote awareness of the fiscal debt on campus.

The contest will be judged by Erskine Bowles, former President of the University of North Carolina system; Chelsea Clinton, board member of the CGIU; Alan Simpson, former U.S. senator; and George Stephanopoulos, anchor of ABC's “Good Morning America.”

The team with the best campaign to make people aware of the to the crisis will be awarded $10,000, followed by second and third place prizes of $5,000 and $2,500, respectively. The winning team will also be recognized by former President Bill Clinton at the upcoming CGIU conference in April in St. Louis.

Mary Tam, senior manager of the Up to Us campaign, said the economy isn’t usually given as much attention among college students as other issues.

“A lot of people think of sustainability as social and environmental sustainability, but fiscal sustainability is equally important,” Tam said.

Tam said the competition is aimed at getting college students involved in a conversation about our country’s fiscal future—a discussion they're often the least engaged in.

“So the reason we were really excited to sign up for this is that it’s another way to really empower young leaders to be able to say to their peers, ‘Hey, guess what? All these discussions and decisions are happening without us, and we’re the ones who are going to be affected by them,’ ” Tam said.

She expects the variety of colleges involved in the competition to produce interesting results.

“We’re dealing with a bunch of different campuses with a bunch of different campaign perspectives and activities, and that’s great,” Tam said. “That’s the whole point, but it makes it hard to have this objective judging process.”

To ensure that judging is objective, Tam said use both subjective and objective metrics to assess the projects.

Business junior Richard Wu, campaign director of the University’s team and vice president of operations in the University’s Net Impact Undergrad club, applied for the competition in October along with students from 44 other universities.

Wu said the University’s team is taking a fresh approach to potential crisis solutions.

“What we’re trying to do is really different from other universities,” Wu said. “We plan to engage people from a fun and enjoyable standpoint rather than lecturing — this is what it is, dry and boring.”

Wu added that the economy is incredibly relevant to college students and topics including job and earning potential and student debt.

“Those are all topics that pertain to students, and they should really be more aware that the federal debt, especially, plays a really big part in it,” Wu said.

Business junior Marcella Pearl, president of Net Impact Undergrad, is also on the team. She said the competition helps to increase consciousness of the economic climate outside of the University campus.

“As college students, we’re the next people going into the work force,” Pearl said. “It’s important to be aware of the world that we’re living in, and it’s so easy to just get caught up in classes and your everyday life that it’s just like a bubble here on campus and you lose sight of the world you’re going to be living in once you graduate.”

From Jan. 21 to March 3, the team has many activities planned, such as Guess the Debt Fishbowl, a game in which students guess the amount of federal debt flying around in a large fishbowl and win prizes if correct: On Federal Debt Awareness Day the team will hang posters with facts about the federal debt.

The team was issued $2,000 from Net Impact to spend on their campaign. Throughout the competition, the team will be updating their Causes website so students can stay on top of progress and activities.

Park said he views the federal debt as an even more far-reaching problem than the current college generation.

“It’s something that can affect the living standards of our generation especially,” Park said. “If this continues to go on, things that we actually enjoy nowadays that we think we are given, like education — our children and their children’s children will actually have a problem paying for those.”

Follow Danielle Raykhinshteyn on Twitter at @dannierayh.

Correction appended: A previous version of this article misstated the objective of the competition. Also, due to an editing error, the article incorrectly suggested the competition was to solve the crisis, ratehr than to raise awareness.

Clarification appended: A previous version of this article did not make clear how the competition's judging process was made objective.