Chicago teens learn polling from UI political-science profs


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On Monday, 28 teenagers from the Chicago area loaded into vehicles and were whisked across Illinois and the Mississippi River. Four hours and some car trouble later, they arrived on the UI campus and checked into Currier Hall.

And by next week, the 15- to 17-year-olds — with the guidance of a couple UI professors — could help the town of Washington, Iowa, make decisions about tax revenue.

A partnership between the UI and the Mikva Challenge — a Chicago-based organization that works to involve youths from low-income families — brought the teens to the UI. They are here to use what they’ve learned about civic leadership and public policy.

The group will work with UI political-science Professor Tom Rice and Associate Professor David Redlawsk to develop a poll for Washington. Although most of the students are interested in politics, many have never had any experience with polling.

“I’m interested in learning about polling because I’ve never really done that kind of thing before,” said Brenda Perez, 17. Her cousin, a Mikva Challenge employee, told Perez to join the organization two years ago to pursue her interest in politics.

Both Perez and Jorge Pule, also 17, are more interested in the public side of politics. They want to be heard.

“I’ve always been more of a speaker,” said Pule, who got involved in the program when his aunt gave him an application. “I want to do something with politics, but I’m keeping an open mind.”

On Monday, the students sat in Room 40 of Schaeffer Hall, learning how to take random samples and create well-formed questions.

Throughout the week, they will call and collect responses from Washington residents, interpret the data, and present it to the Washington City Council on Thursday. The results of the poll will help the city make policy decisions.

“[One goal is] to provide a space for intensive leadership development and team-building among our youth leaders,” said Brian Brady, the executive director of the Mikva Challenge.

The program will introduce the students — Chicago natives — to campus and small-town life. That includes a pork chop and corn-on-the-cob dinner in Washington.

The students will also branch out from the political-science department. Brady said another goal of the trip is to expose to the college-selection process and opportunities at a major university. The students — sophomores, juniors, and seniors in the fall — will learn about the admissions and financial aid.

The UI instructors also lauded the program. Rice, who chairs the political-science department, noted it is the first of its kind. If it is successful and continues to receive funding from the Mikva Challenge and the UI, he said, he hopes it will happen again in future years.

“To me, this program is a win-win-win,” Rice said. “It’s good for the University of Iowa to make connections with the students and to encourage them to go to college. It’s good for the students because they’ll learn a lot about polling, and it’s good for the city of Washington.”

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