Hack for Democracy event seeks to increase civic engagement among STEM majors at ASU

October 7, 2020

Cyrus Commissariat and Alexis Sammon have been active in educating and motivating fellow Arizona State University students to register to vote. This fall, they’re taking their focus on civic engagement to the next level by hosting Hack for Democracy at ASU, a virtual hackathon challenging students to bring together the spheres of civic engagement and software development.

As ambassadors for the Andrew Goodman Foundation, Commissariat and Sammon realized there was a trend in past data showing that science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors were less likely to vote at ASU. ASU students with Secretary of State Katie Hobbs Cyrus Commissariat and fellow Andrew Goodman Foundation ambassador Ayesha Ahsan are pictured last fall with Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs at ASU's Tempe campus. Download Full Image

“The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University releases a report on voting and what voting looks like at universities across the country. In the National Study of Learning and Voter Engagement report, our 2018 data was based on major and it's really glaring,” said Commissariat, a senior in The College studying political science, history and French. “So we were confronting this question of, 'How do we make voting exciting and how do we engage students?'”

Enter the virtual hackathon. Individual students or groups are challenged to develop a technical solution for an issue related to civic engagement that could include but isn't limited to fair and secure elections, misinformation and bias, civic education or voter participation. Pitch submissions are due Oct. 17 and finalists will be invited to give a live, five-minute pitch to a panel of judges via Zoom on Oct. 31. The top three winners will receive a monetary prize.

“We're hoping that this event will engage students and show that there is a future for STEM students in democracy work, in civic tech and that it will create the next generation of entrepreneurs who will do the work that voter engagement people like us really need,” he said.

Commissariat shared more about his experience with civic engagement at ASU.

Question: What motivates you to partake in activities like increasing student voter registration and civic engagement?

Answer: The reason I started any of this work is because of my passion for education and education equity, which is something that we in this state have a problem with. I think that when voters are informed and when they care about education and the environment around them, then they make good decisions — an informed voter is a really great voter. So, I realized that there's this disconnect between people hating the government, but they don't want to vote. How will the government ever change? Voting is one tool with which we can make that change happen. And there are other tools and activists that do really great work but I think this is one really concrete and easy way that every citizen can get involved in government.

Q: Can you share more about ASU’s connection with the Andrew Goodman Foundation?

A: The Andrew Goodman Foundation started after the murder of Andrew Goodman. Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner were three young men who went to register African Americans in the South and were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi. His mother started this foundation in his memory to encourage college students to register other students to vote as her son did back in the ’60s. The Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service for politics — which is located in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions — hosts the Andrew Goodman ambassadorship for student ambassadors to try and engage college students to register other students to vote. Right now, there's eight of us; the program has grown quite a bit.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

A: There are a lot of other organizations who are doing really good work around registering people to vote. My team of eight is certainly not enough to register all 100,000 ASU students. There's definitely others who are doing really good things: Mi Familia Vota, the Black African Coalition, the civic engagement coalition at ASU. And then nationally, the Pastor Center is a part of the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition; they're the foundation that provided the hackathon grant funding that'll make the prize possible and also helped us expand our team. It's really helpful to see that we're not doing this work in a vacuum and that this is really a priority for higher education across the country.

Register for Hack for Democracy.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


ASU Graduate College relaunches Gastwirth Graduate Student Fellowship Loan Program for doctoral students

The Graduate College announces relaunch of doctoral funding program

October 7, 2020

Arizona State University's Graduate College has announced the relaunch of the Gastwirth Graduate Student Loan Fellowship Program, a funding opportunity for doctoral students. 

This program provides forgivable loans of up to $10,000 per academic year (up to $5,000 for fall and/or $5000 for spring) to doctoral students who intend to pursue full-time employment for the betterment of sciences and humanities at an institution of higher education, nonprofit organization or governmental agency. Graduate students receive honors at ASU commencement Graduate students receive honors at ASU commencement.

“The forgivable loans provided by the Gastwirth Graduate Student Loan Program will enable more students seeking to serve the public, and who are in financial need, to complete their doctoral degrees successfully," said Elizabeth Wentz, vice provost and dean of the Graduate College.

Since transitioning into her role at the Graduate College, Wentz has worked with Graduate College staff, and other departments at ASU, to bring back this funding opportunity and greatly expand the terms of eligibility and forgiveness, while still keeping the award in line with donor intent. The college has significantly broadened the availability and terms of forgiveness with the help of Financial Aid and Scholarship Services, Financial Services, Student Business Services and the ASU Foundation.

Previously the Gastwirth loan program was only available to doctoral students pursuing tenure-track positions at institutions of higher education. By adding the public and nonprofit sectors to the loan program, the Graduate College is expanding funding efforts in recognition of the shifting landscape of career paths pursued by doctoral students. 

“Based on research we did with the Council on Graduate Schools on the career paths of ASU doctoral alumni, we continue to see more PhDs employed in a variety of academic and public service roles,” said Tamara Underiner, associate dean of Academic Affairs. “As a result, the Graduate College has added additional professional development courses and programming to prepare our scholars for multiple career paths.” 

Students interested in the Gastwirth Graduate Student Loan Fellowship Program must demonstrate financial need, strong scholastic achievement, and should be able to articulate a plan to attain a postdegree position at an institution of higher education, nonprofit organization or governmental agency. The deadline to apply for a spring 2021 loan is Oct. 30, 2020.

The relaunch of the Gastwirth loan program is just one example of the Graduate College’s continued efforts to seek opportunities to support ASU graduate students, especially during this time of uncertainty. Another example is the Pandemic Impact Award, recently launched to help students who need additional assistance due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"The already challenging economic pressures on ASU graduate students have increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wentz said. “We are thankful to the Gastwirth family for their gift.”

To learn more about this loan and apply, please visit the Gastwirth Graduate Student Loan Fellowship Program webpage.

student worker, Grad Research Assistant