Pike Politics is an online forum dedicated to Politics and Law students exploring key issues that affect our lives. It’s also a testament to the resourcefulness, creativity, and passion of a class of Bryant University seniors given a mission to better the world.
“It’s the culmination of everything that we had done at Bryant. Everything that the school teaches us was part of that class,” says Ryan Strik ’20, a member of the Pike Politics Editorial Board. “The critical thinking, the research, the problem solving skills, the ability to write, to innovate, to understand the world around you: it was all there.”
How do we make people care about democracy?
The project began with a simple question Associate Professor of Political Science Richard Holtzman, Ph.D., posed to the 17 seniors in his Politics and Law seminar at the start of the fall 2019 course. “How do we make people care about democracy?”
“Education is not just learning for learning's sake or memorizing something to regurgitate it for a test; it’s about purpose. What are we going to actually use this information for, these skills for?"
He then stepped back and let the students work, and ponder, and puzzle over where to even begin. “At first it was pretty daunting,” laughs Siera Fergosi ’20. “Everyone was like, ‘oh, my goodness. What am I going to do? I don't know what to do.’”
For Holtzman, that uncertainty was the point, a prompt to encourage the students to build their own path. “Education is not just learning for learning's sake or memorizing something to regurgitate it for a test,” he says. “It’s about purpose. What are we going to actually use this information for, these skills for? I think that these skills matter beyond our classrooms and beyond the higher education experience.”
“This started from nothing,” notes Connor Henderson ’20. “It started with a bunch of students interested in improving the political conversation, and trying to figure out how to do that.”
“I've never had the experience of being part of a whole classroom working toward a common goal like that before,”
Unique skills and interests come together
Soon, however, the students' problem solving skills and ability to collaborate – honed over the last four years – kicked in. With Holtzman acting as a facilitator, they began to deliberate on their course of action, what they should say, and how they should say it.
Through discussion and debate, they decided that the best way to help people care was to share the issues they themselves were passionate about, and explain them in a way that was both comprehensive and easy to understand. They decided an online resource would be the best medium to feature their work and named it after Douglas Pike, the road on which Bryant is located.
“With this project, not only did we get to create something that we were proud of and can put on our resume, we also got to work on something that we loved.”
To make their vision a reality, the class arranged themselves into groups based on individual talents: some worked on research, others on building and structuring the forum, still others on editorial policy. They learned to value each other’s contributions and how those contributions created a greater whole.
“I've never had the experience of being part of a whole classroom working toward a common goal like that before,” says Fergosi. “One lesson I learned from this project was that every single person has some sort of expertise, or talent, or idea that can be brought to the table and enrich something.”
Thought-provoking content for readers and creators
Pike Politics covers a wide range of issues concerning the international, national, Rhode Island, and Bryant communities – and presents them in a variety of formats. “This was the work of 17 students who all had different interests in foreign policy, in American policy, and in local and town policy,” explains Emily Nunez ’20, who covered Rhode Island’s affordable housing crisis. “The Pike Politics site is a culmination of all those interests and a dive into the issues that we care about.”
“It's meant to be provocative, it's meant to make people think, and it’s meant to be accessible.”
“I think that every Politics and Law major became a Politics and Law major for a particular reason, because there’s at least one issue that’s important to them. For me, it was media literacy and the impact that it has on government and the public,” says Fergosi, who studied how students get their news. “With this project, not only did we get to create something that we were proud of and can put on our resume, we also got to work on something that we loved.”
In his contributions, Henderson, who aims to go into public policy after college, examined issues of media bias. “Being able to apply the ideas that I’d learned in my classes to real issues was something that I really enjoyed,” he says.
“Professor Holtzman knew that we could do this, so he gave us the clay to work with – and insisted that we make the project our own."
In addition to exploring issues, the project, per their mission, is also intended to effect change. “It's meant to be provocative, it's meant to make people think, and it’s meant to be accessible,” says Henderson.
“I'd love for it to be a conversation starter, for someone somewhere out there who reads it and says, 'Wow, there is an affordable housing crisis coming out of Rhode Island,” agrees Strik. “What are we doing to fix that? What can we do to fix it?”
Reflecting on creativity and drive
As the students look back on the course, they’re proud that they were able to envision and complete a project like Pike Politics from scratch, and grateful they were presented with the challenge. “The course gave me the opportunity to improve my research skills and my writing skills, but it also gave us the opportunity to build our own path and hit walls and hit dead ends,” says Henderson. “It helped us build creativity and the drive to work through obstacles and figure them out.”
“As students and as young people, we’re always told what to do – we’re very rarely told ‘figure out what you want to do and do it.'"
“The Pike Politics project was an experiment,” says Fergosi. “Professor Holtzman knew that we could do this, so he gave us the clay to work with – and insisted that we make the project our own.
“As students and as young people, we’re always told what to do – we’re very rarely told ‘figure out what you want to do and do it,’” she adds. “I think we'll remember this class for the rest of our lives.”