Elon students finalists in advocacy competition
A letter from two Elon students to U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, in which they urge the Massachusetts senator to support legislation that funds the development of nuclear energy technology, is a finalist in a contest that will be judged April 8 by prominent former lawmakers at a Project Pericles conference in New York City.
Sophomore Erin Mellett, who has academic interests in anthropology, and senior sociology major Kimmy White wrote Brown in preparation for Project Pericles’ “Debating for Democracy” National Conference. The school with students deemed to have written the best letter, as determined by the former lawmakers at an afternoon “legislative hearing,” will receive a $3,000 award to develop an advocacy campaign on the issue.
The Elon students are asking Brown to support the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative Improvement Act, which would authorize $250 million over five years to support the emergence of small and modular nuclear reactors. In a letter that tops 1,100 words, the pair outlines the benefits of clean nuclear energy and the nearly spotless safety record of nuclear energy in the United States.
“…the high concentration of natural resources (like oil) in certain regions of the world has led to the development of natural resource monopolies,” Mellett and White write. “Conflict over these resources has subsequently perpetuated tensions between nations and has led to numerous wars and unnecessary bloodshed in recent years. The development of modular nuclear power plants would make access to power more widely available and would significantly reduce the need for fossil fuels, subsequently diminishing conflict worldwide.”
Mellett and White are competing against students from Berea College, Carleton College, Chatham University, Earlham College and Swarthmore College for the top honor. Judges include former United States senators Nancy Kassebaum Baker (R-Kan.), Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) and Harris Wofford (D-Pa.). The other five finalists will receive $500 for their own campaigns.
“I was really shocked,” said Mellett, a Massachusetts native and the primary author of the letter. “I knew we had a chance of going to New York, but I didn’t think we’d be picked.”
In December, students at the 27 colleges and universities that take part in Project Pericles were asked to write a letter to their member of Congress on a public policy issue that impacted their community. Sixty-three teams representing 26 schools submitted letters, which were also mailed to more than 100 elected leaders.
At the legislative hearing, each of the teams will have 20 minutes to discuss its letter and take questions from the former legislators. The legislative committee will select the winning team at the end of the hearing.
“It’s going to be scary but a really good learning experience,” Mellett said. “I don’t enjoy public speaking, and this will be an opportunity to get over that stage fright.”
Project Pericles is a not-for-profit organization founded by education philanthropist Eugene M. Lang to encourage and facilitate commitments by colleges and universities to include social responsibility and participatory citizenship as elements of their programs in the classroom, on campus, and in the community.
D4D is a Project Pericles initiative in which students at colleges and universities research, develop, advocate, and defend their positions and opinions on significant current issues of public policy. The conference will be sponsored by the Eugene M. Lang Foundation and hosted by The New School.