Midge Zuk ’19 and Elizabeth Gray ’19 have a message for their fellow Bucknell students:
Voting isn’t just for political nerds. Elections like the one coming this fall will decide things that you care about and affect your everyday lives.
This semester, the two seniors are hard at work spreading that message on campus, thanks to their selection as Mauch Fellows. Funded by former Lewisburg residents James and Rebecca Mauch and administered through the League of Women Voters chapter in Union County, the fellowships promote student engagement in politics and help Bucknell students get the information they need to be informed voters.
Interest in politics at Bucknell has spiked since the 2016 election, Gray says, but some students are still disaffected or tuned out. With so much gridlock and fighting, she says, the world of politics and elections “seems like an empty road of red tape, where everybody yells and nothing ever gets done.”
“Getting people to care is the first step,” Zuk says.
The Mauch Fellows’ fall plan includes a forum on hot election issues, like immigration, where they’ll take care to provide balanced information. Zuk is excited to be working on a project with the League of Women Voters. “Their approach is very bipartisan. The league says ‘We’re here to inform, and people can vote the way they want to vote.’ ”
Gray and Zuk will also help students deal with the sometimes-confusing mechanics of how to vote — getting registered, whether on campus or at home, then locating their polling place or learning how to vote absentee.
Zuk says her passion for politics was ignited in Political Science Professor Scott Meinke’s American Presidency class. “It set my heart ablaze for political science,” she says. “It made me want to find more ways to immerse myself in politics.” In contrast, Gray says her passion predates her arrival at Bucknell: “I’ve been a huge political nerd all my life.”
As faculty mentor, Professor Chris Ellis ’00, political science, is available to help Zuk and Gray as needed with ideas and advice. “The project is meant to be student-led, student-run and student-focused,” Ellis says.
Brady Clapp ’17 was an inaugural Mauch Fellow in the 2016 election cycle, along with Emily Cottle ’17. The most important work the two did, Clapp says, was probably the talks they gave to first-year writing seminar classes about the mechanics of voting. Some first-year students, he says, didn’t realize that you can’t just show up on election day and vote without registering first.
The 2016 Mauch Fellows also arranged four election-related forums. The first brought students up to speed on everything that had happened in the campaign so far (“Election 101,” Cottle calls it). It was followed by one on third-party candidates and another focused on races for state and local offices. The last forum, held after the surprising results on Nov. 8, explored what lay ahead for the newly elected president.
“Students who came to the forums were very engaged and asked good, thoughtful questions,” says Cottle. As she and Clapp worked to inform students about the election, they also registered 20 new voters.
Both the inaugural Mauch interns remain interested in politics. Clapp started law school this fall at George Mason University, right outside Washington, D.C., while Cottle works as a congressional staffer for the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
James Mauch, an emeritus education professor at University of Pittsburgh, says he and wife Rebecca have met many of the students who are promoting civic education and political engagement among their Bucknell peers. “They’re going to go through life as leaders,” Mauch says.
“We think it’s working,” he says of the project the couple are funding on campus. “We hope it grows at Bucknell and across the U.S. We don’t know how students are voting. That’s their business. We just want them to vote.”