Honors Student Launches Non-Profit to Spark Youth Activism
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – How do we as a nation mobilize young people to become more politically active? Honors senior Maya Ungar, a Sturgis Fellow at the University of Arkansas, is collaborating with other motivated college students nationwide to increase civic engagement among students. The spread of the novel coronavirus has put a wrench in their original plans, but the team is keeping up by taking activism online.
Ungar is working with Stanford University student Hannah Zimmerman and University of Toronto student Uma Kalkar to launch The Institute for Civic Organizing. TICO is a non-profit that supports education for young people on how to be civic-minded citizens through lessons on political activism, social issues and voter engagement.
“Historically, activism has been seen as separate from the academic sphere, and we want to institutionalize political organizing by teaching it in classrooms,” Ungar explained. The group’s formal launch has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have made a selection of lesson plans tailored to digital classrooms available for free download on their website. Zimmerman and Jazmin Kay, TICO’s partnerships director, have also published a guide, “6 Ways to stay civically and politically engaged during a pandemic,” in i-D magazine.
“Now more than ever, it is crucial not to lose sight of our pursuit for a better future,” Ungar said. “TICO is working to ensure that activism continues during this trying time, by providing students with ways to stay politically engaged."
Fellowship seeds New Non-profit
The trio met after Ungar was nominated by the Honors College for the Presidential Fellows Program at the Center for the Study of the Presidency in Washington, D.C. The rigorous year-long program includes two three-day conferences in Washington, where participants are able to meet with experts in the field and other bright students from around the world.
Hannah Zimmerman was Ungar’s roommate during the program’s fall conference, and the two quickly bonded with Uma Kalkar over their shared perspectives and goals. When Zimmerman and Kalkar banded together to form TICO in 2019, it felt natural for them to bring Ungar on board to serve as fundraising director.
Activism, Meet AcaDemia
The group is partnering with educators to create curricula appropriate for both K-12 students as well as college classrooms. To date, they have produced 150 lesson plans that can stand alone or be integrated into existing curricula.
“Our motto is ‘Where activism meets academia,’” Ungar said. “We have big plans to promote the idea that activism can be taught in the classroom and that everyone can be involved in advocacy for what they believe in.”
TICO is currently hosting a virtual fundraiser and launch, in lieu of a large-scale event in New York City that was scheduled for later this month. It was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, the organization has profiles coming out in national publications like Teen Vogue and Vox. And with Ungar attending graduate school in London in the fall, and Kalkar studying in Paris, they’re hoping to expand internationally in the future.
On the national front, the group plans to pilot their curriculum through a fellows program. In the fall of 2020 they plan to hold a conference about TICO and its learning objectives and invite a group of teachers from around the country to learn about the program and ways to implement the lesson plans in their classrooms.
“Right now, all of us are pooling our resources. We reached out and had people we know reach out to others. It’s all happening really fast, and we would love to have as many activists and educators on board as possible,” Ungar said.
The trio has brought several others on board to help streamline the non-profit’s quick growth, including Outreach and Marketing Director Ellie Burger and Partnerships Director Jazmin Kay. There are five women currently serving on TICO’s board, and they are in the process of adding a director of diversity to the mix.
The team keeps growing, and they don’t intend to slow down anytime soon. “We’re like a snowball,” Ungar laughed. “But we’re not going to crash – we just keep going and going and going!”
Launching a non-profit in the middle of senior year might be a tall order for some students, but Ungar has had plenty of practice with big projects. She has three majors in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences: international studies (with a dual concentration in European and trans-Atlantic affairs and peace, security and human rights), political science, and French.
She has studied abroad three times, in Denmark, France and Thailand. She’s had three internships in Washington, D.C.: one with the State Department’s Office of Western European Affairs, one with the Peace Corps and one with the nonprofit Churches for Middle East Peace. Her honors thesis, overseen by history professor Laurence Hare, focuses on the role of organizations founded by female survivors of genocide in post-conflict aid. Ungar recently won the Richard H. Solomon Award for the Most Original Paper on Foreign Policy or Diplomacy, one of five research awards presented by the Presidential Fellows Program.
About the Honors College: Established in 2002, the University of Arkansas Honors College helps the university’s top undergraduate students excel academically, flourish personally and experience a world of opportunities. Each year the Honors College awards up to 90 freshman fellowships that provide $72,000 over four years, and more than $1 million in undergraduate research and study abroad grants. The Honors College is nationally recognized for the high caliber of students it admits and graduates. Honors students enjoy small, in-depth classes, and programs are offered in all disciplines, tailored to students’ academic interests, with interdisciplinary collaborations encouraged. Fifty percent of Honors College graduates have studied abroad and 100 percent of them have engaged in mentored research.
About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 3% of colleges and universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.
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