Nonpartisan institute connects students across the political spectrum

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The leadership of the Institute of Politics. Photo taken by Alessandro Uribe-Rheinbolt and courtesy of Tanner Glenn.

There are many words one could use to describe political discourse on a college campus, but “nonpartisan” isn’t often one of them.

Senior political science major Tanner Glenn wants to change that.

“There is no space on campus that can accommodate students from all across the political spectrum,” Glenn said. “There is no space for students to engage in nonpartisan civic programming.” 

Glenn hopes to fill this void with the UNC Institute of Politics. The institute, which launched in April 2017, is based on similar groups at Harvard, Georgetown and the University of Chicago. The institute aims to “engage and inspire students, particularly undergraduates, to pursue careers in politics and public service,” according to the institute’s website. 

“If we don’t have talented, bright people in our government, we’re going to have real problems in our system down the line,”  Glenn said. 

One of the institute’s recently added components is The Fellows Program, which will bring prominent North Carolina politicians Deborah Ross and Thomas Stith to campus for eight weeks this fall. Ross, Democratic nominee for the 2016 NC Senate Election, and Stith, former chief of staff for Gov. Pat McCrory, will hold weekly office hours in addition to hosting not-for-credit seminars on relevant political issues. The seminars begin in mid-September and will be open to the UNC community.

For Stith, serving as a fellow seemed to be a natural and welcome continuation of his career in public service.

“Looking at the goals of the Institute of Politics at UNC-Chapel Hill, they are focused on that next generation of leaders and public servants,” Stith said. “[That] definitely aligns with what I’ve been passionate about throughout my professional career.”

For Ross, an alum of the UNC School of Law, participating in the program presents an opportunity to learn as well as to teach. 

“I get a lot of energy and a lot of hope from working with the next generation,” Ross said. “I try to keep an open mind and do as much listening as I do talking.” 

Stith agrees that discussion with undergraduates will provide a mutual learning opportunity. 

“I learn as well,” Stith said. “It provides me an opportunity to have a different perspective and to learn and to really benefit from the strength and insight of the students as well.”

Glenn is looking forward to working with the two fellows.

"I think why we're so excited to have both Deborah and Thomas on campus this fall is because they were very excited about our mission, which is to get young people from across the political spectrum, to get them excited about politics," Glenn said.

Glenn is looking forward to the growth of the fellows program, as well as the institute itself, as it continues to provide a platform for engaged political discussion and problem solving.

“We’re really excited, we have a lot of students involved," Glenn said. "We’re hoping this will be something very exciting for everyone at Carolina." 

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