For raising participation and involvement through Vote Oswego, Allison Rank received the 2019 Standout Faculty Award and SUNY Oswego earned a bronze seal from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, at a November ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Rank, an assistant professor of political science, was one of two recipients of the national honor, which recognizes faculty members who go above and beyond to promote civic engagement inside and outside the classroom. 

“The educational component is where we’re really excelling,” Rank said. “That’s where we’re getting recognition right now.”

The POL 386 class “Vote Oswego” was a big driver in the increase in participation rates and subsequent awards, Rank said. In that course, students work in a non-partisan way on registration, awareness and inviting students to follow through. The class provides students with not only voter registration tactics and information, but also a foundation to take leadership roles in any number of avenues in college and after graduation, she said.

In addition to her work at Oswego, Rank has contributed to helping other campuses increase the educational value of their civic involvement campaigns through a collaboration with the organization Democracy Works. The group’s popular campaign planning game, Votes & Ballots, now includes a 10-page student-friendly review of relevant academic research that recent SUNY Oswego political science graduate Connor Breeze created as an independent study under Rank.

“I do feel confident that our presence is making a substantive impact,” Rank said.

The ALL IN coalition consists of 560 participating institutions enrolling six million students, with an organizational goal to make civic engagement an integral part of campus life. The organization “wants to create increased structure for college campuses to be intentional about the work they’re doing and to be public about what they’re doing,” Rank said. 

Rank’s work was previously honored with the John Saltmarsh Award for Emerging Leaders in Civic Engagement, given by the American Democracy Project.

Rising rates

The Institute for Democracy and Higher Education issued their nationwide release of the campus-specific National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement data in October, with a huge rise in young voters leading to Oswego earning a bronze seal from the ALL IN organization.

“We were able to triple our voter turnout rate from 2014 to 2018,” Rank said. “Our turnout increased 17.9 percentage points from 2014 to 2018 (from 8.8 to 26.6). The changes in our turnout rates from 2014 to 2018 were, to put it mildly, impressive.”

When the 2018 Vote Oswego project started, the team’s goal was an 18 percent voter turnout — or double the previous result on a non-presidential election year — and these figures exceeded that goal, Rank said.

“The numbers are even more impressive if we look specifically at age categories. In 2014, 3.9 percent of 18 to 21 year olds enrolled at Oswego voted,” Rank explained. “In 2018, 21 percent of that same group voted. While the jump isn’t quite as impressive for 22 to 24 year olds, it is still significant (10.6 percent in 2014 to 27.4 percent in 2018). While the overall campus number is a 300 percent increase, looking just at the 18 to 21 year old demo — the bulk of our campus — we have a 500 percent increase.” 

Rank and students will soon enough start gearing up for repeating their registration and civic engagement efforts in advance of the 2020 campaign, with five interns coming on board in spring and the course offered again next fall.

The 2018 campaign also included a creative team comprised of students in Rebecca Mushtare’s Art 333 “Experience Design” class and Art 417 “Web Design II” class, and “Vote Oswego’s 2018 successes reflect the work of students in those classes,” Rank noted. The web design class effort won the national AIR-U competition for accessibility in web design for the team’s inclusive work on the Vote Oswego site.

Rank invites other faculty to reach out if they are interested in ways to get involved and support their classes and students.