16 students received grants from the University’s Engage 2020 Initiative (E2020) fund to pursue political internships or volunteer work this summer. The University created E2020 in Fall 2019 to encourage students to participate in politically-centered civic engagement. The fund offered support for costs associated with remote work such as phone or internet bills, housing, meals, and other supplies.

E2020 is an extension of a 2018 program that offered grants to students working on political campaigns during fall break. The goal of this program is to enable students, especially those who may face financial barriers, to learn relevant skills and form relationships they can bring back to campus and use in their future careers. 

“I want to find ways to help our politically active students think beyond the borders of campus and take some of their passionate energy and intelligence out into the American electoral system,” President Michael Roth ’78 wrote in the Washington Post.This kind of direct participation in civic life provides an educational benefit that will help students develop skills for lifelong active citizenship; participants will gain organizational skills, learn to engage productively with others with whom they disagree and learn about themselves.”

Isha Jha ’23 spent part of her summer as a campaign fellow for David Buchwald, a congressional candidate in New York. Through her fellowship, she was able to experience New York politics first-hand.

We had weekly meetings where we talked about New York politics on a more macro level — mostly how it’s organized,” Jha said. “I’m from California so it was different working on a campaign for a district that you don’t live in, because obviously you don’t know the issues. As much as you can read about it, you can never have the same lived experience as the people that are living there. I think it was a really cool opportunity that I got to reach out and see what other issues are affecting other communities.”

Similarly, Anna Ribeiro ’23 interned with Dianne Morales, a New York City mayoral candidate. Through her internship, she was able to develop her fundraising and communications skills.

“My goal was to keep an open mind and to explore the world of campaigning and what that looks like,” Ribeiro said. “I learned a lot about campaigning on a local level [and] I learned a lot about myself in particular because it can be very stressful.”

Theodore Zarobell ’23, who worked on data visualization and advertising with Evolve California, a non-profit that works to reform California tax law to bring more money into public schools, had similar aspirations as Ribeiro.

“I had probably three major goals,” Zarobell said. “One was helping with this issue that I care really deeply about: [helping a] very underfunded inner city public school. The other was gaining experience and I gained a lot of experience [creating] ads and data visualizations. The third was to help me get some political connections to get another political job, and I got another political job for the fall.”

Elisa Chi ’21 was an intern with Emerge Connecticut, an organization focused on bringing more women into politics. As an international student, she was able to learn more about American politics.

“I liked the experience of campaigning for what I believe in and seeing myself make an impact,” Chi said. “It was a new experience to me and I like how, especially young people and women, are getting more engaged [in politics].”

While opening the door to new political experiences, the grant also removed some of the financial barriers that prevent many students from participating in politics and civic engagement. Jha said she would have been more likely to seek a different paid opportunity, had it not been for the grant.

“I could’ve been doing something else where I got paid,” Jha said. “I [still] might have worked on the campaign but spent a lot less time on it.”

Zarobelle not only used the grant as compensation for his time, but also to pay for Tableau, a computer software he used for his work. 

“Tableau, the data visualization software… is super expensive,” Zarobelle said. “[Without the grant] I would not have used it and I would have been hindered in my ability to help this organization.”

The E2020 fund is one part of the University’s Civic Action Plan, which also includes the promotion of classes with a curriculum that is connected to the 2020 election. In Fall 2020, there are 24 E2020 courses offered within a wide range of departments from government to theater.

The newest aspect of the initiative is the Engaged Projects (CSPL 480) course, through which students can receive credit to conduct research on a topic of their choice with a sponsor. In addition to conducting research, students enrolled in the class will receive feedback from their peers and produce a final project presentation for a public audience.

Ribeiro believes that the E2020 initiative and civic engagement is an important part of learning and a great opportunity to gain hands on experience.

“I wish that more people knew [about the initiative], because knowing that you could be funded to give your time to campaigns might change your life, might change your perspective on how local government works,” Ribeiro said. “I don’t think a lot of universities are really focusing on [political engagement] because [they probably] think that it isn’t a good image to think politically. That sort of political discourse and engagement is so important, so I’m really glad that I got to participate.”


Olivia Ramseur can be reached at oramseur@wesleyan.edu.

Natalia Ruszkowski can be reached at nruszkowski@wesleyan.edu.

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