September 3, 2018

The 2018 Election and Nonpartisan Engagement with Students

Posted by Laura Guertin

The importance of the November 2018 mid-term elections is not lost on anyone. In addition to House (all 435) and Senate (35 of the 100) seats being decided for Washington DC, several gubernatorial races (36 states and 3 territories) will be determined. I am sure my colleagues at colleges and universities have already seen on their campuses large efforts to get students to register to vote, with these efforts organized by offices of student affairs, civic engagement, or even sustainability. What role can we play as science faculty in not only encouraging students to vote, but helping students become informed voters?

Recently, AASHE (The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) hosted a webinar on Nonpartisan Engagement and the November Elections (webinar archived online). The November elections also happens to be the theme of this year’s Campus Sustainability Month, taking place during October. My campus gathered faculty, staff, and a librarian to view the webinar and discuss how we can support each other across all of our interactions with students to deliver an urgent and effective message on the importance of exercising their right to vote.

The webinar shared resources that I’ll post here for those that are interested in learning more and sharing with their own communities.

— The Campus Election Engagement Project ( has not only guides for getting students to register for vote, but they have published useful nonpartisan candidate and issue guides, debate watch guides, and tips for student newspapers (perhaps useful for department newsletters?). Students in particular may like the social media toolkit and memes (one pictured above), as well as this video for why their vote matters:

Your Vote Your Voice ( has the critically important state voter registration deadlines and contacts.

The 2018 Election and Earth and Space Sciences

What can we do in our departments, whether it be in our discipline club meetings or in our classrooms? For the 2016 election, I had the students complete an Earth science election activity (see previous blog post), where students were divided into teams and had to research where each presidential/vice presidential candidate stood on grand challenges in our discipline appropriate for my course that semester (global warming/climate change, energy, water, and oceans). With a simple jigsaw technique, Google Docs, and assistance from websites like Science Debate (, the exercise was a success.

Science Debate has again asked all House, Senate and Gubernatorial candidates to answer 10 science policy questions prior to election day. The questions are included on the left (click to open PDF), and the responses that have been submitted by candidates can be found linked on this map.

There hasn’t been much submitted yet for my state (Pennsylvania), so for this semester’s election exercise, I may utilize the Campus Election Engagement Project’s Creating Your Own Nonpartisan Candidate Guide. There is a helpful how-to for creating a guide, along with an example of a previously-created guide by a student class.

I’m fortunate that our campus library has taken a strong interest in supporting students and faculty instruction with regards to the election. Penn State Brandywine’s Vairo Library has created a Library Guide (or LibGuide) on Elections and Advocacy. This resource is an excellent source for information for my class activity. Upon completion of our Earth science-focused nonpartisan candidate guide, I look forward to sharing this resource across the campus.

I hope additional resources are posted online by candidates as well as organizations – the more information we can have easily accessible and clear on the issues, the better for everyone heading to the voting booth on November 8th.