University to receive inaugural Excellence in Student Community Engagement Award

The Engagement Scholarship Consortium has announced it will present its inaugural Excellence in Student Community Engagement Award to Western Carolina University for the work and contributions of WCU’s Center for Service Learning and Student Democracy Coalition.

The consortium is a national organization composed of public and private higher education institutions working collaboratively to build strong university-community partnerships. The award will be given during an annual conference held Tuesday, Oct. 2, in Minneapolis.

Civil dialogue takes place on campus during a WCU Democracy Day event.

WCU’s Student Democracy Coalition works to register voters, build awareness of political issues, hold community forums and candidate debates, and aid citizens to be active in civic engagement.

“I am humbled that our organization has been nationally recognized for our efforts to engage students in civic life,” said Hannah Fraser, a junior majoring in political science and sociology, a Student Democracy Coalition member, as well as a WCU Student Government Association senator and an Andrew Goodman Foundation Vote Everywhere Ambassador. “We strive to increase participation in our democracy, and I hope that we can serve as an example for other colleges and universities. It is so important for students to learn about their role in the democratic process, and coalitions like ours who focus on voter registration and education can really make a difference.”

The Student Democracy Coalition and the Center for Service Learning recently established a one-stop early voting site on campus for statewide primaries, with WCU students, faculty and staff involved in the planning process. Voter registration was available, with newly registered voters able to immediately cast ballots in a process known as same-day registration.

Lane Perry speaks on behalf of the Help Students Vote Act outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

“Working with students is why I am in the field of higher education,” said Lane Perry, director of WCU’s Center for Service Learning. “Watching and helping these students grow in the name of civic engagement and a thriving democracy is typically reward and recognition enough. Sometimes, the students you work with grow and achieve so much… that their efforts are recognized on a national level. The Student Democracy Coalition is the conduit of that growth, and civic engagement is the source. I am honored beyond measure to be a part of this team. I am reminded daily that our democracy works for us if we work for it.”

Perry was among university speakers invited to travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the introduction of new legislation designed to ensure that higher education institutions are supporting student voter registration and civic engagement. He delivered remarks outside the U.S. Capitol on April 18 as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois introduced the Help Students Vote Act.

“I have often said that the Student Democracy Coalition demonstrates what is truly exciting and exceptional about having a highly engaged and active student body,” said Alison Morrison-Shetlar, acting WCU chancellor. “The nonpartisan work and efforts associated with the Student Democracy Coalition is what make its work so accessible to everyone, no matter what side of the aisle a citizen leans.”