Students Lead the Way on Citizenship in Politics

Eric Peckham, A13, speaking at the annual Tisch College Alumni Celebration.
Eric Peckham, A13, speaking at the annual Tisch College Alumni Celebration.

The story of young adults and politics isn’t just about voting, says Eric Peckham, A13, a Tisch Scholar and President of the Institute for Political Citizenship (IPC).  Through events and activities throughout the year, this undergraduate student group is embracing a robust understanding of the roles they can and want to play as fully engaged active citizens.

“The IPC is a place for anyone interested in domestic politics and policy beyond the parties,” said Peckham.  “We help get all members of the community involved at all levels.  Our forums foster discussions and build community, and during elections we work hard on voter registration and get out the vote drives.  We’re building up our networks to get more and more internship opportunities with campaigns, at the state house, and in policy research and advocacy work.”

Peckham helped revitalize the IPC in 2011 as a part of his work in the Tisch Scholars program, a multi-year leadership program.

“Being a Tisch Scholar has really broadened my perspective,” he said.  “It’s deepened my understanding of the diversity of social and public policy concerns held by different groups within America.”

A political science major with a focus on comparative political economy, he is particularly interested in the role of innovation in government.

“I’m fascinated by figuring out how cities and countries can spur innovation,” said Peckham.  “I think it’s a big challenge to the public sector, being more innovative and efficient, and thinking more in terms of customer service to deliver good government.”

Peckham credits an internship during his senior year of high school with sparking his passion for new approaches to social problems. Working at the non-profit Be the Change, Inc., he met Greg Propper, A01, a Tisch College board member and former Dutko Fellow, who introduced him to a weekly study group on campaigning at the Harvard Institute of Politics.

“In a lot of ways, that study group was the model for what I hoped to do at the IPC,” said Peckham.  “It was a roundtable conference, led by an expert, but it was actually a discussion, an honest sharing of ideas. I wanted to build something like it for Tufts.”

Eric Peckham, A13This fall the IPC has been at the center of the political conversations on campus.  They’ve held policy forums on presidential campaign strategy and the nitty-gritty of local electioneering, and had viewing parties and discussions around the debates, election night, and an election recap.  Guest speakers have included Tufts alumni Dan Winslow, A80, a member of the Tisch College board, and Carl Sciortino, A00, both currently serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

“The policy forum presents a different topic each week,” said Peckham.  “It’s a place to dig in and really explore the issues.  We look not only at what the debate is in the US, but also internationally.  And while this fall is centered on the elections, we’re also looking down the road.  Our second forum was on natural gas, fracking, and energy policy, and we’re launching a new study group on financial regulation.”

Peckham is working to bring nationally known figures to campus for special events.  Simon Rosenberg, A85, Tisch College board member and founder of the Washington think Tank NDN, and former Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker, Jr., will be visiting campus the year.  Additionally, the IPC is aiming for a headline event in the spring semester, and is reaching out to possible speakers like former New Mexico Governor and Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, A70, a member of Tisch College’s council of friends, and Senator Scott Brown, A81.

“It’s too easy to lose energy after the campaigns end,” said Peckham.  “We hope that a few high-profile events with a really high level of content can keep the engagement going.”

Peckham is also thinking beyond his own graduation, and is helping to put in place a team that will extend the group’s work.

“The IPC will continue, across the university,” he said.  “To build in the kind of student support for research and internships that we’d like to have, it has to be more institutionalized in some form.  But to keep it fresh you need to keep bringing in outsiders, and make innovation a core practice.  It’s not an easy circle to square, but I’m sure we can do it.”