Roosevelt@UGA: “Not left, not right, but forward”

Roosevelt@UGA members research and write policy proposals addressing current national issues. The student-run think tank hopes its recommendations inspire community activism and offer legislators innovative solutions to complex social and economic problems.

“Working in Athens has been an extremely unique asset to our chapter,” said current president and UGA Foundation Fellow Deep Shah, who was recently interviewed for a student activism article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Shah and first-year law student Gabe Allen started Roosevelt@UGA in fall 2005. “It has inspired us to research and consider issues relevant to our own community and impact lasting change.”

The UGA chapter is part of the Roosevelt Institution, a national network of student-run think tanks that promotes students’ ideas and empowers them to become active and informed citizens. The Roosevelt Institution’s mission is based on the progressive philosophy of three famous Roosevelts: Franklin Delano, Theodore and Eleanor.

The tough public policy issues the Roosevelt@UGA members tackle in their papers are the focus of specialized policy groups, called centers. Each center is made up of about 10 students and topics range from healthcare to defense. Brian Levy, policy director and a UGA Ramsey Honors Scholar, oversees all the policy that the organization produces.

Roosevelt@UGA also receives organizational and institutional support from UGA’s Honors Program, School of Public and International Affairs, and University Libraries.

After six months to a year of preparing policy briefs, the members have the opportunity to present their recommendations at a spring policy symposium on campus. Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) headlined the 2006 event and Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) will be the featured speaker at the April 21 symposium. The event will be held at 3:30 p.m. in room 150 of the Student Learning Center.

Shah said one of the best educational experiences for the group has been participating in a three-day conference held at UGA in January, marking the 30th anniversary of former President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. Shah and Balaji Narain, director of Roosevelt@UGA’s international security policy center, were two of the chosen presenters for a student panel: “The Carter Presidency: Lessons for the 21st Century.”

Several Roosevelt@UGA members, along with other Honors students, analyzed policy decisions from Carter’s administration. Shah gave a speech on Islamic radicalism, while Narain commented on Carter’s economic policy.

In addition to national topics, Roosevelt@UGA investigates policies relevant to the Athens community. Last fall, members organized lectures, debates and movie screenings to raise awareness about local poverty rates as part of their Students Together Ending Poverty (STEP) project. Roosevelt@UGA worked with more than 15 other student organizations to extend the reach of its campaign.

Roosevelt@UGA executive director Dan Weitz said members are currently drafting policy recommendations based on their assessments of the STEP project in hopes of providing a finished policy brief to local and state government officials.