MSState Engaged with Lia Merivaki

(upbeat orchestral music) – Hello, and welcome to Engaged, the program that focuses on community-engaged learning, research, and service at Mississippi
State University. I am your host, Meggan Franks, and today, I am joined by Dr. Merivaki, who is a assistant professor in American politics in the
Department of Political Science and Public Administration. So, hello and welcome, Lia, to Engaged. – Hi, it’s nice to be here. Thank you. – So yeah, um, I’d love to get to know you a little better and talk to you about your community engagement programs that you’ve been involved in, primarily campaign politics, and then your role as a fellow here. But first, I’d like to know about how you found yourself here at Mississippi State University. – Thank you, that’s a great question. Thank you for having me. Well, um, Mississippi
State was gracious enough to offer me a job. That’s the short answer. I’m a native Greek. I got my Ph.D at the
University of Florida, studying American Politics and Elections, and after graduation, I applied for jobs and this was one of the ones
that I was a good fit for. It’s great because I am
able to do all these things, like you mentioned with
community engagement and conduct research with my students, so it has been great so far. – And so, you’ve found, I guess, an interest in community-engaged learning and developing this community-engaged learning courses, campaign politics. Do you know want to talk about just the development of that course? – Sure, yeah. That’s a great question. The nature of my research
requires me, more or less, to interact with partners
and the community in general. So, I found it to be
straightforward and very intuitive to involve students in
the process and get them exposed to how research is conducted, how they interact with community partners, and the tools they get
when they, you know, graduate and they apply for jobs. So, I was very excited when
I heard the opportunity for the community-engaged fellows and I was one of the first to apply the inaugural group. That was a great experience, um, that helped me realize
that some of the things that are involved in the process, I was already doing, but there were many more components to it
that I hadn’t thought about, which would help the students develop more their critical analysis
skills, reflection skills, and also build stronger relationships with the community. So, that was the first opportunity to think about how can I, I can adapt it and adjust community
engagement in my classes at Mississippi State, and with midterm election coming in 2018, that was a great timing to implement it with my students for campaign politics. So, we, I tried to incorporate working with political parties and advocation groups, and students to work with
local election officials, so kind of expose students to different ways of doing campaigns, not solely thinking
about working campaigns in the context of a political party. And, in a broader
perspective, thinking about how engage the voters,
not to vote for a party, one candidate or another, but to be engaged and voter registration, and being informed in politics, which extends beyond partisanship. So, that was my thinking coming into the fellows program and I learned so many things that, and I keep on learning. It’s, you know, ongoing. But, it has been great and
students received it very well, and they’re doing great things after this. – And so, how did it, so the course were, so they would go to class, like learn, have like an in-class experience. And then they volunteered
throughout the week? So it was a little complicated, yeah. – Yeah, so yeah, and I suspect
every class is different. One of the caveats, in my case, was that there were some exogenously
imposed deadlines, like the National Voter Registration Day was early September. Then, the election is in November, so building a curriculum
around that was a challenge because you need to balance, as you said, instruction and, you know, materials, and the practical component of the class. So, yes, we did include, I did include instruction in the classroom, students got to work together as teams. They had time to meet their partners. They also had to work “on the field,” as we called it, during the semester. And, but the biggest chunk of their work, was, you know, during election time when they were working on the ground. But, I tried to keep it ongoing, so that it doesn’t overwhelm the students. Um, and, there were different things that they were learning throughout the process. – Yeah. And so the, um,
the benefits to that the students, so benefits to the agency, why do you feel like the
class was so important for students to get involved? – I think, um, well,
contextually speaking, Mississippi’s a red state. It’s a state that is not considered a very competitive, and that’s why not many, you know, the media kind of doesn’t
pay much attention to engaging voters. We know that turnout among
college students is low. That prompted the ALL
IN Democracy Challenge that I wanted to
incorporate it into my class and kind of try to make
it a mission of my class, but also hopefully we will build it into the institution’s mission, Mississippi State, that
our students are engaged. They’re want to be involved in politics, they work to register their
fellow students to vote, they’re informed. So, the benefits were that
students realized that there’s much more to
elections than just voting. That there’re challenges
that some people face that they hadn’t necessarily
thought of them before, like how is it this hard or
difficult to register to vote. So, fostering this culture of information of this inequalities that some students don’t really think about because they’re not exposed to them. And that comes from interaction with the community and their fellow classmates. And then, in combination
with the textbook materials, they know, um, they realize
that it’s much more important than they thought before. – Yeah, that’s great. We’re going to take a short break and we’ll be back to talk to Dr. Merivaki about her project with campaign politics. Thank you. (instrumental music) – A baby’s arrival can be one of the most exciting times in a family’s life. It can also be one of the most anxious, especially if the child’s development is hindered by medical challenges that create more questions than answers. At Mississippi State University, we’re ground breakers in the
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uncovering breakthroughs, and treatment and prevention with a goal of greater understanding that leads to better care. We’re also providing crucial
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lives back together again. (instrumental music) – Imagine the possibilities from one of the world’s
fastest supercomputers. We are, at Mississippi State University, where we ring true. (moody music) – So, we’re back with Dr. Merivaki talking about her, uh, role in developing the campaign politics course, and then also as a fellow
at Mississippi State. So, we were talking about benefits and your, the benefits of this
partnership on the students. We talk about the benefits on the community partner and
the institution, as well. You want to? – Yeah, definitely. So, one of the partners that I used in my campaign politics class is called Mississippi Vote. They’re a non-partisan,
non-profit organization that was is recently launched and its mission is to
engage and inform voters. And they conduct voter
registration drives, so that was a, it made
sense to partner with them. They also had a fellow on campus who was working and
coordinating things with them. That was great because that
student was in my class. So, it was very natural to work with them. We built relationships. That was a great
relationship back and forth because we learned things, but they also learned how
to interact with students in different contexts
and some of the things they need to, you know, think about as they move forward and they
build their organization. So, the campaign politics, how we run, we work with the same partner
in the spring semester and students actually lobby
the state legislature, so that’s another thing
that I want to develop as I move forward with my courses here at Mississippi State. The benefit for Mississippi
State are immense, not to mention for the students. It’s exposure, Mississippi State can do, can be a leading institution
in community engagement. That’s my opinion, and with this effort from faculty and, especially in politics, I think it can really take center stage because students are very active and they just need more opportunities to be part of the political
life and engagement, especially when it comes to politics and elections and policy. – Yeah, and this, your
class was also part of a, even a larger effort at Mississippi State called the MSU ALL IN Democracy Challenge? – Yeah, so we… – Yeah. – Thank you. We partnered with Student Government and Student Affairs Division, and that was kind of our strategy on how to, um, get the
voter-friendly designation for Mississippi State. And, again, it made sense
for me to incorporate my class and I have a body
of students that I can, you know, employ on the ground and we can be more effective
in voter registration and information activities. So, that was one component
to make that strategy happen for the ALL IN Democracy Challenge. Um, more faculty were part of this. Other students were part of this. They were, they volunteered to do it. It was great because we had
about 100 students on the ground and many, they were so
excited to be part of it and they were talking to
their friends about it. So, we hope to build this and I intend to do this for 2020 as well, so the ALL IN Democracy stands and we’re building more
momentum for next year. – And we won, we won that award or we received that designation also. – We did receive that designation, yeah. – I was looking at the document. – We also got a mini grants very recently from the Students Learn
Students Vote Coalition. Uh, and we’re discussing
with other faculty from Sociology, um,
and that’s sponsored by the Scholars Strategy Network and we’re thinking of doing a summit for young voters in the spring. So, that’s breaking news, yeah. – Yeah. – So, we hope that we can, again, raise more awareness and make Mississippi State a central, you know, actor in this effort. – Yeah, that’s, and all this started with your involvement in fellows. – Yeah, yeah. I think that I wouldn’t
have conceived it that way and the Center for Community Engagement gave me more resources absolutely on which people to talk to because, you know, as a junior
researcher and academic, I wasn’t sure of, you
know, who to approach, so that gave me the opportunity
to talk to Student Affairs and then kind of, you know, catch up, so we can put it on the
ground in time for 2018. – Yeah. – I’m grateful for that opportunity. – So we have about a little,
about 45 seconds left. Any advice that you have for a faculty member that’s looking to get involved in community engagement? – The first thing I hear
from faculty is that “I don’t know how I can
put that into my class” and the good thing about
the fellowship program is that it doesn’t really require you to have a solid idea on your mind. So, I would advise
going with an open mind, take the time, and it’s great. I wish I could do it again and I often will volunteer to go back and, you know, talk to new fellows. It’s great, so, and I think that we should all do our classes in that way. – Yeah. – Students really enjoy it
and they learn so many things. And they’re better equipped. – Yes, they are. Thank you. Well, thank you for
joining us today on Engaged and so, until next time,
go forth, do good things, and get involved in your local community. Thank you. (instrumental music)

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