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Student project ties election to sustainability issues

October 17, 2016
KOKOMO, Ind. — A project in her environmental conservation class helped Jessica Filer decide whom she would vote for in Indiana’s gubernatorial race.

Filer, from Bunker Hill, and her group researched plans each candidate for governor and president have created for water conservation, and then prepared a report to share with the Indiana University Kokomo campus community. Three other groups investigated candidates’ stances on sustainable cities, renewable energy, and public land.

“I thought I knew who I was going to vote for, but what I read during research changed my mind,” said Filer. “We learned how to determine what was unbiased information, and how to look past sensationalism to dig into the real issues of this election.”

The project gave the class a chance to put the scientific method of research into action, to learn to seek out unbiased information sources, and how to share their knowledge with others, according to Leda Casey, senior lecturer in geology.

“This empowers them in the democratic process,” she said. “They learned they have the ability to go out and research the issues on issues on their own, and not rely on sensationalized coverage. It’s nice to come back and center yourself and realize these are the real issues, these are their stances in writing, so we can hold them accountable for them. It helped them focus on the actual issues, and not the craziness of the media.”

Tanisha Echols said the project gave her more to consider as she makes her decisions.

“You feel more informed,” she said. “You feel included. I feel like I truly understand and know what I want this year.”

After completing their projects, they hosted an information table in the Kelley Student Center Commons, to provide other students, faculty, and staff with impartial information to consider as they prepare for the November 2 elections.

“It feels worthwhile to use what I learned in class to help other people,” said Shad Jakes, a junior from Kokomo. “It was good to be able to answer their questions, and to know this information.

Several said they’d been worried about people’s reactions when they worked at the information table, but that everyone was respectful.

“I didn’t encounter a lot of people feeling strongly towards one candidate or another,” junior Owen O’Dell said. “They just listened, they didn’t give me their views on the candidates. They were more there to listen and learn than push their views on me.”

Tabitha Pelgen, Kokomo, said an important part of the project was just to present information, and not to endorse or even appear to endorse candidates.

“It was important to us that we had to stay unbiased, and look deeper into information to see who was behind it, or who paid for the research, to know there was no hidden agenda behind it.”

Casey noted that students took a survey before starting, to identify their own political beliefs. That allowed her to place them in groups that did not share ideology, to bring more diversity to their thinking.

“If we’re going to solve all our environmental issues, we won’t be sitting at the table with people who think the same way we do,” she said. “Everyone will have different ideas of what needs to happen. You have to learn to work through that, or you won’t get anywhere. It’s an important part of understanding how to solve these issues.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana

Last updated: 01/10/2017