Lauren Willhite: NCPIRG Internship, Change in Action
Have you ever seen issues with environmental justice, sustainability, or other issues on NC State’s campus and wanted to take action on it? I was a person who saw the problems happening in the world and on our campus and felt powerless to make a difference on any of it until I discovered NCPIRG.
NCPIRG is an organization that is working to make positive social change in our community by tackling issues like civic engagement, environmental stewardship, and college affordability. I specialize in ensuring that students at NC State are getting active in these issues and getting it out to the public via social media posts and videos as well as coordinating with other organizations and individuals to participate in or co-host events.
When I started this internship in August of 2020, I found myself diving head-first into the New Voters Project. With this project, we were mainly focused on trying to first register people to vote. We called students from our school as well as all over the state to explain the registration process and create an action plan so they would be more likely to vote. Through this project, we were able to register thousands of students and allow young people to vote on issues they are passionate about since young people are underrepresented in elections.
As of the Spring 2021 semester, we are currently working on two campaigns, one focusing on food and housing insecurity and one on sustainability. For the food and housing insecurity, so far we have done a speaker series where we hosted organizations such as Feed the Pack and a Place at the Table as well as several professors on campus dedicating research, time, and passion to the issue. We are making plans to implement online food pantries and to further reach students and provide them with information on the resources available to them through NC State or other means. While the sustainability campaign is still in the process, we’ve brainstormed a lot of potential ideas and social media interactive posts that will get this campus engaged in sustainability in a COVID-safe way! We are also making plans for each member of our chapter to commit to making plastic brick blocks out of the plastics we throw away and donate them as well as coordinating clean-ups. As of now, I have coordinated a small clean-up at a local stream with a few of my friends. Additionally, I am currently the leader for eom4 upcoming Earth Week/Month events and have several items on the docket including additional clean-ups, an environmental art competition, petition signing, letter to the editor blocks, and more!
One of my favorite memories so far was going to a lobby day for the food and housing insecurity campaign and being able to talk with US representatives and a staffer for a US senator. Specifically, I got to meet with US Representative Ted Budd’s staffer Charlie Hobbs, US Senator Richard Burr’s staffer Kelsey Mason, and David Price along with his staffer Nora Blalock. Our goal was to discuss the benefits of doubling the Pell grant and explaining the impact that it can have on students as well as discussing emergency funding for students heavily impacted by COVID. This experience is one of the ones that stuck out to me the most because I was able to have conversations with people that I know can make a difference in policy and will be able to take the knowledge I share with them into their decision-making for the country. I also got the unique opportunity to share my personal story about how the Pell grant and financial aid opportunities have impacted my life through my parents. I got to see and hear their genuine reactions and know that they have the power to make the changes that I want to see which made this beneficial.
Written by: Lauren Willhite