Sheryl Crow once crooned that “a change would do you good.” That is exactly what Stony Brook University students in the Up To Us program through the Center for Civic Justice are doing. Not only are they helping create change in the community, but they are also winning big money in the process.
“The main focus is fiscal sustainability and advocating for educating college students about fiscal policy,” said Ashley Mercado, who also is the faculty advisor to the program.
The program is tied to an Up To Us competition in which 20 to 30 campuses participate. The point? To get students to learn about fiscal reliability and sustainability. The competition encourages students from colleges and universities across the country to be engaged through impactful, creative campaigns that highlight the importance of addressing the national debt and other fiscal issues for America’s future generations.
“The main chunk is getting students to sign a pledge, which says they are interested in promoting a fiscally sustainable future for themselves, for their community, etc. And then just trying to sort of integrate information about the national debt into some events and I work with them on the implementation,” she explained.
The teams have been entering the Up To Us competition for the last few years, beginning in Fall 2021 with the theme of Fostering a Fiscally Sustainable Outlook. This challenge is designed to encourage students to dig deeper into understanding the changes that policy makers and individuals need in order to produce a fiscally sustainable future. As the teams have progressed, they have been recognized for their hard work. In Fall 2022, the Stony Brook team placed in the top 10 and was able to claim a $1,000 prize to split among themselves.
The Spring 2022 team took things to the next level, placing first in the competition and taking home $10,000.
“It is kind of crazy that we won two semesters in a row,” Mercado said, crediting the fact that the prior winning team leader has stayed at Stony Brook to pursue a master’s degree and has helped guide subsequent teams, while a previous intern on her team has now become a team leader.
The teams work with similar guidelines that received accolades in the past, while putting their own spin on it. “I really enjoy watching that pipeline; an intern helping with the project, then when they become a leadership team member, they take on the updates and make it their own with new interns underneath them,” she said.
The program, Mercado said, is no easy feat. Teams have to contact a certain number of members of Congress, they have to write op-eds — all while handling life as a student. “It’s a very intensive process to really understand why college students should be aware of fiscal sustainability and why it’s so important,” she said.
The rewards have spoken for themselves. Not only have the teams been able to win some cash, but Up To Us has also afforded them professional development opportunities that will help them grow into leaders in their respective career paths.
And the winning team? “They’re going to D.C. to a joint conference with the Clinton Global Initiative, and they’re going to be recognized by President Bill Clinton, which is just huge,” Mercado said. “But even without winning the competition, [participants] still get access to a lot of really great resources for your college years and beyond your college years, which I think is really cool.”
— Emily Cappiello