Up to Us is about change, innovation, creativity and education, and all of these have to be done at the same time. When we were planning our team’s campaign one year ago, we decided that our community was going to be one of the principal elements of our action plan. Our team wanted to present to the community more than just the national debt amount. We wanted to fully explain the extent of what the national debt represents in the present and what it can represent in the future if we do nothing about it. Our community outreach plan covered colonias, high schools, and businesses. We always felt that talking about economics and politics to our peers at the university was an easy job, but that we needed to reach the people that truly do not understand much about this topic.
Up to Us is really much more than a competition. For me, it was always much more than that. Counselors, business owners, community leaders — they all opened their doors to let us talk about the national debt. The important matter here is to find that way to community and adapt it to all the possible audiences. We created different flyers: technical and non-technical, English and Spanish, with colors and without colors. Always have your audience in mind when creating materials to present. During our campaign we sent several letters to many high-school counselors who later on assigned us to different classrooms, where we talked to more than 500 students during each day of our visits. Even when we were exposed to that incredible number of students, we always tried to personalize the message so that everyone was able to understand it.
It is important to understand that when reaching out to the community one has to realize that each individual has their own opinion about a topic. Sometimes, even after talking about the national debt for an hour, in some peoples’ minds it was not a problem. As a team we never tried to push an agenda or blame a party for the 17 trillion dollars the United States holds in debt. We always stated that our foremost priority was to provide knowledge and understanding so that at the end of the day people were more informed. Prior to the beginning of the competition we had many ideas and we really wanted to go above and beyond. We came to the conclusion that by doing some big events we would reach a lot of people, but this would have to trade off education. Having big events with hundreds of people does not mean that your campaign is successful. Almost everyone can fill an auditorium if offered the right incentives. We chose to inform high schools and our community not based on a “number” strategy but on a “need” basis.
As a matter of fact, that is the agenda behind this competition. Up to Us is a learning project, a learning opportunity and a learning journey. One must strive for transcendence, which has nothing to do with winning. The biggest prize today is that high schools are still calling us because they want their students and parents to be exposed to all the information we gave them last year. While the main priority of Up to Us is the national debt, when we were visiting high schools we felt the obligation of discussing financial literacy, college preparation and why it’s important to be engaged in politics. Economics, finance, political science, history — they all work in synergy and it is exactly that element that has to be present in every activity during the campaign in order for it to be successful. Another reminder: the word “competition” does not mean that you have to think about this like an exam. Yeah, there is a grading system, but the ultimate grade is how many people you truly educate along the way.