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The GW Hatchet

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Adam Conner: Letting students lead the way

When I sat down to write this column, I knew I wanted to write about the Roosevelt Institution, the student think tank that I helped found last fall at GW. But I didn’t want it to look like shameless self-promotion for our upcoming Tuesday launch event that would be easily dismissed. Instead, I wanted to try to explain why I felt there was a need, a hunger, for something like the Roosevelt Institution on campus, why I started believing that the unheard-of concept of a student think tank might just be the missing piece in the GW community.

I should probably start with a quick explanation of exactly what the Roosevelt Institution student think tank model is. One of my colleagues is fond of saying that colleges are effectively think tanks, in that they have world-class resources, professors that are leading experts in their fields and thousands of students already studying and creating policy in their classes every day; they are just ineffectively organized.

So the idea was born to bring together college students of like-minded interests in areas ranging from foreign policy to health care and have them work together on new policy solutions that could then be published and promoted on a national scale. This idea became the Roosevelt Institution, and in just more than a year it has expanded into a national network of student think tanks that is organizing at more than 150 schools across the globe.

On Tuesday, the Roosevelt Institution will launch at GW in the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom at 6:30 p.m., and the entire GW community is invited. The program will be entitled “Inside the Beltway, Outside Politics” and, yes, we are a non-partisan organization dedicated to bringing together students from across the spectrum together in common interest and for the common purpose of creating new solutions. That’s what the Roosevelt Institution is all about and why I’ve spent the last few months working to bring it to GW.

For me, this all began with an instant message from my friend Mattie at Stanford while I was abroad last year in London. She started carrying on about this new student think tank she was a part of and how it got students involved from majors that were traditionally unengaged in public policy; about how it brought together students from across party lines; and that in just a few short months it became one of the largest student organizations at her school. The more she told me, the more I started to think she might be on to something and that maybe there was a place for a Roosevelt Institution at GW.

But all the while I wasn’t quite sure that students in Foggy Bottom would be interested. While I love GW, the more time that I spent here, the more I realized that there was something missing from campus. Thanks to our unique location there was little incentive for students to be involved in campus activities, not when Capitol Hill or the White House were just a few blocks away. I wasn’t sure that students with that kind of access would want to take the time to work on creating policy.

So I started mentioning the idea here and there, to just a few people in passing, testing the waters and trying to get a sense of what the reaction would be. And the response was overwhelming.

At the core of the Roosevelt Institution’s appeal is a dual message of empowerment. It’s the idea that you don’t have to wait until you graduate to effect change. That you can take that old paper or project from four semesters out of your drawer and maybe turn it into a new policy that can not only be published but actually improve society.

Already at GW, dozens of passionate students have come forward and begun organizing policy centers in education, human rights, foreign policy, global development, environment and public health. And that’s just the beginning, because the beauty of our model is that we can expand the number of policy centers to support whatever topics students are interested in researching – anything from criminal justice to sustainable energy. All we need are your ideas and your passion. I know there are plenty of both out there.

By now I’ve told you more than enough about why this organization has become my passion, and maybe I’ve piqued your interest just a bit. I hope you’ll join us on Tuesday for what I believe might be the start of some great new ideas that just might change the world.

-The writer, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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