This blog post is part of a three-part series on the third annual national convening of Newman Civic Fellows hosted by Campus Compact the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The essays in this series are written by Newman Civic Fellows who won an essay competition among attendees of the convening. This essay is written by Nitan Shanas, a psychology major at Rutgers University Camden.
By Nitan Shanas, Rutgers University - Camden
I feel fortunate to have been given the opportunity to attend the Newman Civic Fellowship Conference. The conference enabled me to learn from like-minded individuals about their civic engagement efforts on their respective campuses. I was inspired and energized to continue my work thanks to this conference and the people that I met. One particular aspect that I enjoyed was the realization that, while each fellow has different social issue interests, we all were unified under the common goal of helping others in need. I shared stories about the work I’ve been doing, like my employment at Joseph’s House of Camden, where I connect homeless guests with public or social benefits, identification documents and mental or physical health programs, and my involvement with Hunger and Homelessness week, and found that I could learn from my colleagues about their strategies of raising awareness and funds for their initiatives and bring some of these ideas back to my campus. Fellows were likewise interested in my efforts and I hope that I was able to provide meaningful suggestions based on my experience.
During my time at the conference, I very much enjoyed the World Café workshop in which we were tasked with answering questions about leveraging leadership to solve complex problems. These problems directly correlated with issues that I struggled with throughout my civic engagement efforts and it was nice to hear thoughts and suggestions from the other fellows.
I also very much enjoyed the Senate immersion module in which we were tasked with passing the 2013 farm bill. Each fellow was randomly assigned a political party along with a state, each representing different values and political beliefs. I was assigned the role of a Republican senator from Arizona, which presented an interesting challenge of thinking about politics from a different perspective than I do in my daily life. The challenge was to work together with our varied, and often conflicting views, to pass provisions for the bill within a limited timeframe. The facilitators of this event placed additional efforts in ensuring that participants understood the broader context of the module which included the bill itself, the manner in which votes are held in the Senate chambers, the way in which subcommittees function and the political climate during 2013. The latter became particularly apparent when I mentioned the recent Kavanaugh hearings in which case the facilitator exclaimed - “Kavanaugh? Who’s that? Is that the district judge that was recently appointed?” This was to suggest that the Senate immersion module was not held in 2018 and Kavanaugh in that context had not yet faced the Senate confirmation hearings for the supreme court nomination. The Senate immersion module was well executed and I was able to learn a lot about political life in the Senate chambers.
One facet about this conference that I was pleasantly surprised about was my amplified interest in public policy and, specifically, increasing voter turnout. Ever since I knew that I would be able to vote in the 2016 presidential elections, I have been closely following the news and reading articles related to politics. However, I never had an interest in motivating others to be more involved in politics like myself until this experience. Largely contributing to this were activities such as the Senate immersion module, guest speaker’s vocalization about the importance of increasing youth political involvement, and conversations with fellows whose efforts closely relate to increasing voter registration and turnout.
It was nice to see that the conference not only met my expectations, but it exceeded them and fueled my interest to a new level. I learned a great deal about leadership and public policy from this opportunity and I hope to implement much of what I learned in future endeavors. As a whole, the Newman Civic Fellowship Conference was an experience that will shape my efforts and one that I will never forget.