Burak Tekin: Student engagement, voter participation is at center of College Debate 2016

For Burak Tekin, representing Metropolitan State University at the College Debate 2016 is an opportunity to bring student concerns to the national spotlight, as well as learn more about how to engage our student body in voting and the election process.

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Tekin is one of three students in Minnesota representing the state at a meeting of delegates from colleges around the country. In early June, 125 student delegates gathered at the campus of Dominican University of California in San Rafael, Calif., to discuss the issues that are important to students and learn how to organize issue-focused events at their schools.

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The program’s purpose is to train students as advocates and activists in youth issues and bring them to focus at the upcoming 2016 U.S. presidential debates. The program is the first of its kind to engage college students in the presidential election through its use of technology and social media. Tekin’s participation in the program is being assisted by Metropolitan State’s Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship.

For Tekin, who is currently majoring in theater arts and gender studies with a minor in screenwriting and planning to work on a master’s in public advocacy and administration, College Convention is an opportunity to develop and practice leadership.

“I thought that this would be a good experience and opportunity to represent Metropolitan State. I hope to bring a local voice to a national initiative and focus on what’s important to students, Tekin says.

Already, Tekin is the secretary of the Metropolitan State Student Senate, as well as lead coordinator of the University Activities Board, a member of the Activity Fees Student Allocation Committee, and campus organizer for the Minnesota State Student Association at Metropolitan State, but it is the tangible participatory experience that College Convention offers that particularly attracts Tekin to the program.

“This program teaches a certain skillset through experiential learning that is difficult to model in the classroom,” he says.

As Tekin participates in College Debate 2016 over the summer, the program will prepare him to organize election-related events at Metropolitan State. The student delegates are expected to facilitate discussions at their home campus to encourage their fellow students to share their perspectives on important issues.

“I’m very eager to see what kinds of programs come out of it,” Tekin says.

In September, the delegates return to Dominican University for the College Convention and will meet in a forum discussion on national youth issues. Faculty experts will serve as moderators.

The culminating convention event is a 90-minute moderated town hall meeting, which will be streamed live, with watch gatherings at the delegates’ home campuses. The discussion will be used to prepare a memo that will outline the key issues the college delegates want the presidential candidates to address. The memo will be sent to the moderators of the national presidential debates. Student delegates may even appear as speakers in televised coverage of the national debates.

In most universities in the U.S., young adult voters consistently vote at lower rates than other age groups – going all the way back to the 1962 presidential election, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But with 71.6 percent participation, Metropolitan State enjoys voter engagement above the national average for college campuses, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement authored by the College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University.

By the program’s conclusion, Tekin expects Metropolitan State to benefit through his connection to the national College Convention network and informed ability to engage the student body with voting and elections.