Westminster Finishes Fourth out of 70 in Up to Us Competition, Team Wins $2,500
BY JIM MALVEN
Westminster finished fourth in the Fourth Annual Up to Us competition, beating 66 of its 69 competitors, including every Ivy League school that participated. This was the first time that a team from Westminster participated in the competition.
Virginia’s College of William and Mary came in first, winning the $10,000 grand prize, and Westminster received $2,500 for finishing in the top eight.
Up to Us is a yearly, nationwide, nonpartisan contest in which students compete to “save America’s fiscal future” by raising campus awareness of national debt, according to Up to Us. It is sponsored by Clinton Global Initiative University, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and Net Impact.
Campaigns and events are judged by the competition organizers and a “diverse panel” and are scored on both the success and creativity of the team’s activities.
Each year, the formal contest begins with My Two Cents Day in late October. It is then put on hold until Feb. 1, so that participants can plan and prepare for the heart of the competition: a three-week event-filled period in February. During that time, participants do everything they can to engage their campus in the discussion of national debt and inequality.
Westminster’s core team consisted of five students from the Global Development and Progress Club: Mustafe Elmi, ’17; Nicolas Lopez, ’18; Ayush Manandhar, ’17; Joseph Opoku, ’18; and Isidora Simeunovic, ’18, as well as the club’s faculty adviser, Dr. Jeremy Straughn.
The path to fourth place began in the fall of 2014, when Elmi and Manandhar took Straughn’s course on global inequality. Inspired by the topics they studied in the course, they sought to do related work outside of class.
Later that semester, with help from the Churchill Institute for Global Engagement, the two founded the Global Development and Progress Club. Elmi became the club’s president, and Manandhar its vice president. However, Elmi is studying abroad in Bremen, Germany, this semester, so Manandhar has acted as interim president this spring.
The following summer, a Westminster alumnus and Clinton Global Initiative fellow named Yangmali Rai tagged Manandhar on a Facebook post, encouraging him to participate in Up to Us. Manandhar said that he was intrigued and decided to apply.
The night the application was due, Manandhar attended Westminster’s Ice Cream Social. He returned to his room around 10 p.m. and, exhausted from his recent flight from Nepal, took a nap. When he awoke, it was 1 a.m., and he realized that the application had been due by midnight. Fortunately for Manandhar, the deadline was given in Pacific Time, meaning that he still had an hour to complete the application.
Up to Us accepted Manandhar’s application, and the competition began a few weeks later with My Two Cents Day on Oct. 22. In this event, Westminster’s team encouraged students to put in their two cents about the national debt issue, including why they care about it, how it has affected them and how it might affect them in the future.
“My Two Cents Day was kind of like priming the pump and showing impact on campus and showing outreach in the media,” Straughn said.
Participants also collected signatures for a petition to the mayor stating that the nation’s fiscal future is an important priority for the millennial generation.
Westminster achieved the highest proportion of signatures (roughly 30 percent) and finished second in total amount with 300. Only Pennsylvania State University’s team obtained more signatures.
On Nov. 5, Manandhar flew to Seattle for the three-day Net Impact Conference. There, he said he received guidance and training for the remainder of the competition. According to Net Impact’s website, “nearly 2,400 student and professional leaders” attended the conference, with the goal of addressing “the world’s toughest social and environmental problems.” Only a handful of these people were competing in Up to Us.
For his team’s success in My Two Cents Day, Net Impact representatives invited Manandhar to meet Chelsea Clinton, Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation and daughter of former President of the United States Bill Clinton and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
After a three-month-long break in the competition, Team Westminster resumed hosting Up to Us events in February.
“You had to cram in three weeks — from Feb. 1 to Feb. 21 — an event series, and that is where you had to pull out all the stops,” Straughn explained.
The first of these events, on Feb. 9, was a country-based simulation of politics and redistribution called the Inequality Games.
The second event, on Feb. 17, was a debate featuring Dr. Tobias Gibson and Amelia Ayers versus Dr. John Langton and Kelli Albrecht on the issue of military defense spending with regards to national debt.
Manandhar called the debate “one of the most successful events at Westminster.”
Straughn estimated that roughly 225 people showed up to the Coulter Science Center Lecture Hall to watch.
“[The College of William Mary] also did a debate about national debt, and they had only 90 students,” Manandhar said. “And they were saying, ‘90 students — that’s a lot.’”
Two hundred twenty five people is more than 20 percent of Westminster’s student body, whereas the first place team, William and Mary, had just over one percent attend the debate.
On Feb. 19, Team Westminster held its third event — a budget simulation. Team members invited students from Westminster, Calvary Lutheran High School, Hickman High School and the Missouri Military Academy to participate in the activity, which engaged students in budget allocation.
Manandhar said that Up to Us has plans to start requiring colleges to invite high school students to participate in events for next year’s competition.
At the end of the budget simulation, students and faculty released red and blue balloons into the sky, representing the campaigns political unity.
“Symbolically it was all about [the fact that] it’s not that people don’t have their political passions; it’s that some issues are big and important enough to where at some point, we have to let go of political alliances,” Straughn said.
President Benjamin Akande and numerous visitors to Westminster gathered behind Coulter Science Center to experience this event.
On Feb. 20 and Feb. 21, Elmi ran a version of the Inequality Games in Bremen. According to Straughn, Westminster was the only team to incorporate an international element.
Earlier this month, from April 1 to April 3, Manandhar attended the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference in Berkley, California. The top 20 teams attended, and judges announced the results. In addition to seeing Chelsea Clinton again, Manandhar met former United States President Bill Clinton and Peter G. Peterson Foundation President Michael Peterson.
Manandhar said that he spoke at a reception hosted by Peterson and Ms. Clinton, where he described the achievements of GDP and Team Westminster and highlighted the importance of teamwork in the campaign.
He ended his speech with the African proverb that Akande used to close his presidential inaugural address: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
According to Straughn and Manandhar, that was certainly the case in Up to Us. Westminster finished ahead of dozens of huge, well-funded schools, and Westminster’s team leader and adviser attributed much of their success to volunteer support (and some to the fact that the Up to Us coordinator’s father is a Westminster alumnus, which motivated them to “shoot for the moon”).
Manandhar said that Westminster partnered with around 20 campus organizations and had 33 volunteers who served as an extended team throughout the project.
“We had people who specifically came out for our thing,” Straughn added. “One of the things that made the team so successful was the excitement that they generated that made people want to be part of that.”
Manandhar said: “I think the very reason this worked out so well is because I, as the team leader of Up to Us, can guarantee you that all of the team members were very passionate about this entire thing, not just about GDP, but about national debt [and] the impact it can make on people’s lives, you know.”
Manandhar added that Team Westminster “received immense support from different faculty and staff members,” including professors Gibson, Langton, Dr. Kali Wright-Smith and Dr. Kurt Jefferson and Vice President of Enrollment Services Robert Andrews.
In an interview room where he was sitting with Straughn, Manandhar also thanked GDP’s faculty adviser for coordinating a meeting with Fulton Mayor Leroy Benton, on Feb. 18, to discuss policy issues. Up to Us required that schools meet with an elected representative.
Given the size and funding of the schools Westminster competed against, Straughn said that Westminster “shouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the top 10.”
He said that there was a limit to how much schools could spend directly and that Westminster’s team spent a relatively minuscule $1,500.
“We kind of [underestimate] the abilities of Westminster and Westminster students just because we are in a small town and all that,” Manandhar said. “But, if you work hard enough and if you team up with the right people who are passionate about the same causes you are, anything is possible.”
Team Westminster is not yet sure what it will do with its $2,500, but “it’s going to fund student activities at Westminster in an ongoing way in one form or another,” Straughn said.