Rutgers students head to Harvard for political conference

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Courtesy of Amanda Marziliano | Rutgers juniors Steven Mercadante (left) and Raymond Delpino (right) will be visiting Harvard University for the “Bipartisan Advocacy: Finding Common Ground” conference.


Raymond Delpino came to Rutgers as a biochemistry major, but realized his true passion was politics during his first semester.

Now the School of Arts and Sciences junior is preparing for a future career as a social studies teacher by teaching the student body the importance of voting. 

Delpino and his co-worker Steven Mercadante are going to Harvard University next week for the “Bipartisan Advocacy: Finding Common Ground” conference. At the conference, the interns at the Eagleton Institute of Politics will practice their knowledge of politics and discuss their project to increase voter registration. 

Elizabeth Matto, the director of youth political participation program at the institute, said she has visited Harvard’s Institute of Politics for the conference for years.

The conference itself is only part of the involvement, said Matto, an assistant research professor at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. The 50 delegates from 25 schools also prepare a politics-related project to bring to Massachusetts.

“The goal is to exchange best practices on how to prepare college students to be active political participants,” she said.

Younger people often feel disconnected from the political process, she said. 

“They think, ‘this will affect me more later when I’m paying taxes or owning a home,” she said. 

But the votes going on now could decide how they fare later in their lives, she said. 

One thing college-age students do tend to recognize is that “partisan bickering” will not get as many results, she said. 

She finds this year’s issue extremely important, as national problems affect both sides of the political spectrum.

Eagleton encourages its students to have strong views, but it also encourages students to learn the skills to engage in actual discussion, she said. 

Mercadante, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, became “hooked” on Eagleton after attending his first few events as a first-year student. 

He is now the student coordinator of RU Voting, which advocates for political participation and registers students to vote. Over the summer, he worked on a project to encourage more students to register by hosting events.

“Rutgers has a unique set of challenges [for voter registration],” he said. “Its size, for one, and how it’s spread across campus. We realized we should address those issues.”

They hope events such as “Pizza and Politics” will invite students to join the discussion without fear of causing partisan bickering.

They will not be presenting their project at the conference, but discussing it with other delegates and older, professional attendees, Delpino said. He called the conference more “Socratic,” where delegates would be jumping off of each other’s ideas and trying to come up with new plans. 

Delpino is excited to hear what others have to say as he is “pretty perplexed” as to how to advance the program. The millennial generation has serious issues with getting through the government, he said. 

“I asked my friend why he didn’t engage more in politics, and he said he was confused by the system,” Delpino said. “I asked him to be more specific, but he just couldn’t specify because he was just that confused.”

Other students are distrustful of campus organizations, he said. During registration drives, students have come up to ask what candidate they would be voting for if they signed up with him.

Mercadante believes voter participation among college students is already good, but agrees it has room for improvement. He said the conference was a good way to show power in numbers and see the potential in his generation. 

The conference will have several speaker presentations, including some that IOP plans to live stream to the public. Mercandante said the public speakers are a good assortment of policy makers and political practitioners. 

Delpino said he hoped to take the lessons of Eagleton, IOP and political science to his future job as a teacher, where he plans to get his students excited about civic engagement.

“I think this will teach me a lot about how to spark interest and teach them why they would want to be politically aware,” he said. 


Erin Petenko

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