Community College Shines in National Competition

By Emily Rogan

McLennan Community College students place seventh in a national fiscal challenge competition, engaging the campus community along the way.

McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, placed seventh in the fourth annual Up to Us competition, which challenged college students to educate their peers about the national debt and how their generation can make a difference in the country’s future.

McLennan was the only two-year college to make it into the top 10 in this year’s competition, which was sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Net Impact and the Clinton Global Initiative.

Five McLennan Honors College students were on the college’s Up to Us team. As a top 10 finisher, team leader Saul Cornejo Bravo is headed to Washington, D.C., in May to meet with economists and think-tank representatives and to attend the 2016 Fiscal Summit, hosted by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

Although placing seventh among 73 mainly four-year college and university teams is an impressive feat for the McLennan team, simply participating in the challenge — and interacting with fellow students — was a win.

“The data shows that students who are involved feel like they matter,” says Linda Dulin, director of McLennan Honors College. “And those who connect with each other and their institution are much more likely to complete their courses and graduate.”

From at-risk to A-team

Bravo was an at-risk high school student. His older brothers, both of whom dropped out of high school, raised Bravo and his sister, working hard to ensure they stayed in school.

When Bravo enrolled at McLennan, he became the first in his family to attend college. He is planning to transfer to the University of Texas at Austin and major in economics. It was his idea to form a team to participate in the Up to Us challenge.

“We wanted to engage students in a creative way about the national debt,” Bravo says. “It was a nonpartisan effort to target college students and raise awareness. [The debt] is going to affect younger people the most later in life.”

How McLennan stood out

On My Two Cents Day in October 2015, all teams participating in the Up to Us challenge were charged with getting students to sign a pledge stating that securing the nation’s fiscal future is important to them. The pledges were then sent to their elected representatives. Successful teams were invited to compete in the larger competition.

“They had to prove their worthiness so they could compete,” Dulin says. McLennan’s competitors, including Cornell University, Emory University and the University of Michigan, were formidable. The College of William & Mary won first place.

In the larger competition, which took place over three weeks in February 2016, McLennan’s team members accomplished the following:

  • They hid an inflatable parrot around campus, leaving clues on social media about its whereabouts. The student who found the parrot had to answer a question about the national debt and, in turn, won a gift card.
  • They hosted U.S. Representative Bill Flores, who came to campus to speak about the national debt and answer students’ questions.
  • Bravo wrote an op-ed in the Waco Tribune Herald on why the national debt is of particular importance to the millennial generation.

The op-ed was a coup. “It was a big deal to get published, and it went a long way to getting seventh place,” Dulin says.

Far-reaching effects

Apart from the competition itself, the campaign had a profound influence both on the team members and on the rest of the student body, Bravo says.

“As a team, it was really powerful to see the impact we had,” he says. “It helped us and other students see that it’s good to be passionate and involved. Real progress can be made when students come together and work hard.” Other student groups offered assistance, and students often asked how they could become a part of the team’s efforts.

Dulin also believes the Up to Us team had a campus-wide effect. “When you take a small group of people who believe in what they’re doing, it’s contagious.”

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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