College’s Vote Oswego founder earns national civic engagement award

SUNY Oswego political science faculty member Dr. Allison Rank (front) — shown here with college President Deborah F. Stanley and student volunteers during a nonpartisan Vote Oswego “blitz week” event on campus prior to the 2016 presidential election — has earned the national John Saltmarsh Award for Emerging Leaders in Civic Engagement from the American Democracy Project.

OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego political science professor Dr. Allison Rank, founder of the student-driven Vote Oswego voter mobilization campaign, has won a national honor, the John Saltmarsh Award for Emerging Leaders in Civic Engagement, given by the American Democracy Project.

The award recognizes exemplary early-career leaders who are advancing the wider civic engagement movement through higher education to build a broader public culture of democracy.  The American Democracy Project — a nonpartisan partnership of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and The New York Times — is a consortium of more than 250 state colleges and universities focused on preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens.

“I am honored the American Democracy Project has recognized me and by extension everyone who contributed to Vote Oswego’s success over the last three years with this award,” Rank said. “This award reflects the time, money and knowledge invested by faculty, staff and students to transform Vote Oswego into a collaborative, interdisciplinary project. I cannot wait to see how the campaign continues to grow and transform as we prepare for the 2020 elections.”

Rank established Vote Oswego as a course, a voter registration drive and a voter mobilization campaign that emphasizes building civic awareness and political skills among students who represent the next generation of voting citizens. It focused first on the 2016 presidential election year and runs every two years during the national election cycle.

In 2016 and 2018, the nonpartisan campaign — with five student interns, more than 250 student volunteers each semester and Rank as campaign manger — registered over 2,000 students to vote and helped 2,500 students request absentee ballots, according to Dr. Scott Furlong, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Oswego. Yet Rank’s civic engagement efforts go far beyond Vote Oswego, he added.

“Civic engagement is deeply embedded in Allison’s teaching, scholarship and service,” Furlong wrote in a letter nominating her for the Saltmarsh Award. “She teaches courses in American politics, media and public opinion, and American political thought.”

Additionally, Furlong said, she developed and taught a course, “America’s Radical Roots,” that includes a study abroad component in England, and also teaches courses in the college’s Honors program and in gender and women’s studies. She and Vote Oswego earned national attention last year when she was invited to participate in the Students Learn Students Vote Election Debrief Summit in Washington, D.C.

‘Actively involved’

Among other involvements, Rank also has spearheaded the college’s participation in Civic Nation’s ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge for innovation and efficacy in civic engagement programming, mentors students in college and beyond, and, this fall at the American Political Science Association’s Teaching and Learning Conference, has been invited to co-lead a workshop on how civic engagement on college campuses can be incorporated into research and teaching.

Rank said she developed Vote Oswego with two main objectives. “First, and similar to programs across the country, Vote Oswego seeks to increase voter turnout among SUNY Oswego students by running voter registration, voter education and get-out-the-vote programming. Second, and what distinguishes Vote Oswego from many other programs, is a commitment to capitalizing on elections to provide interested students intense training in campaign strategy and tactics.

“After a series of goal-setting and training sessions, students enrolled in the course or internship program repeatedly plan, execute and assess events that use classic grassroots organizing tactics such as phone banking, canvassing, and recruiting and working with volunteers,” she continued.

Former Vote Oswego interns Angela Tylock and Nathan Crowell wrote a letter of support for Rank to the American Democracy Project.

“Dr. Rank inspired each of the members of Vote Oswego to pursue political interests throughout the project,” Tylock and Crowell wrote. “Both of us have decided to attend law school; while for different areas of the law, each of us feels more compelled to remain actively involved in the democracy we live in, whether that be working directly in politics or practicing civil rights law.”

Inspiring approach

Two other former students, Michael Hegarty and Christopher Collins-McNeil, wrote to express their gratitude for Rank’s teaching and steadfast mentorship — during and beyond college.

“Dr. Rank approaches every one of her classes with an interdisciplinary mindset that helps her students understand the political space, not just memorize its elements,” Hegarty and Collins-McNeil wrote. “Not only did she challenge us to rework how we thought about politics in her classes, she helped us figure out what direction we wanted our careers to go in.”

Rank helped Hegarty and Collins-McNeil land respective campaign positions with Hillary for America and Nick Mosby for Baltimore. Afterward, she assisted them in their applications, respectively, to work in the offices of state Sen. Todd Kaminsky and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, according to the former students.

In a scholarly vein, Furlong pointed out, Rank and Tylock co-authored “Vote Oswego: Developing and Assessing the Campaign-as-Course Model” in the Journal of Political Science Education and, with recent graduate Connor Breese, Rank has collaborated with Democracy Works to create a new version of the game Votes and Ballots.

Rank also has contributed as a member of the SUNY Oswego Leadership Institute (“Oz Leads”), helped re-start the Civic Engagement Coalition and was elected to serve on the Task Force on Free Speech, Civil Discourse and Peaceful Assembly at the college.

The Saltmarsh Award recently was presented to Rank at the 2019 Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Meeting in Fort Lauderdale. The conference, organized by the American Democracy Project and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, brings together faculty, student affairs professionals, senior campus administrators, students and community partners from around the nation, focused on ensuring that students graduate from colleges and universities prepared to be informed, engaged citizens.

For more information on the political science program at SUNY Oswego, visit oswego.edu/political-science. For more information on Vote Oswego, visit voteoswego.com.

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