Sydney Young has always known the importance of civic engagement.
When she turned 18, she immediately made sure she was registered to vote, and there were even times when she was a freshman or sophomore at Missouri State University when she emailed or called the office of one of her lawmakers about debatable issues that mattered to her.
But it wasn’t until she enrolled at the University of Missouri–St. Louis to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in political science that Young began to spend so much time working to engage others in the political process.
“As a student of political science, I think everyone should vote,” Young said. “Voting is part of our democracy. But I also come from a psychic background and I do a lot of advocacy work, so I know that women and minorities and LGBTQ communities – different marginalized groups – are impacted by laws that make it difficult to vote, like requiring a ID card when not everyone has the license or need to queue for six hours to vote. The voices most in need of a vote are unable to make their voices heard. »
Young knows that making sure people understand who they’re voting for and why and making sure they’re registered and have the opportunity to go to the polls is critical.
Even when she was still living and working in Springfield, Mo., and taking online classes, Young joined the Academy of Political Science and began working on voter engagement initiatives in her role as president of the organization’s social media. His involvement only increased after he got his bachelor’s degree and moved to St. Louis to begin pursuing his doctorate in political science. She joined the University of Missouri Student Associates and became a member of UMSL’s Civic Engagement Coalition.
“She’s one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met,” said Patricia Zahn, UMSL’s director of community engagement and outreach. “She is passionate about our voter engagement efforts and works hard to share information through social media platforms to encourage people to register and vote.”
Young’s work helped the Academy of Political Science be recognized for excellence in virtual programming and as Student Organization of the Year by the Office of Student Engagement in 2021. She also helped PSA earn a United Way grant to help increase awareness and enrollment of Medicaid expansion. for UMSL students and members of surrounding communities.
“Sydney is an exceptional student and citizen,” said Assistant Professor Anita Manion. “She is truly passionate about civic engagement and social justice and is a wonderful ambassador for UMSL.”
Last spring, Young received the Excellence in Campus Civic Engagement Award and was one of 82 students nationally named to the ALL IN Student Vote Honor Roll after being nominated by Zahn and Manion. .
“When I got the email that they nominated me I had a little tear in my eye knowing they saw the work I do and not just nominating me for the school awards, but going out of their way to nominate me for the national awards,” Young said. “It was really empowering.”
She’s felt this often since joining the political science department, even when she lived four hours away.
Young, who grew up in Clarksville, Missouri, a small town east of Bowling Green, Missouri along the Mississippi River, had traveled to the state of Missouri to study psychology with the idea of working a day as a therapist in the prison system. She wanted to try to understand the issues that were driving the worst offenders into the system so that she could somehow stop them from committing crimes.
“That was the whole plan,” Young said. “I had taken all these courses on policing and criminal justice. At that time, I was working as a supervisor of minors and I was like, “That’s not what I want to do.” I don’t want to see people in jail. I can do more advocacy work instead of therapy. “
After taking a year and a half off school, Young made the decision to return to college in the summer of 2019 to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in political science. Not ready to give up her steady job as an assistant superintendent of miners in Greene County, she began looking for places to earn her degree online and found UMSL.
“I think she’s probably one of our earliest graduates from our online undergraduate programs,” said Professor David Kimball, chair of the Department of Political Science. “We just launched them a few years ago. Through these programs, we can reach a wider range of students who do not live in the immediate St. Louis metropolitan area, and it’s really great for us to have Sydney in our department.
Even though she was taking distance learning courses, she wanted to get involved and she credited Manion for helping her break through.
“I knew I always wanted to be part of the UMSL community,” Young said. “I wanted to be a full Newt, so Dr. Manion, as an Academic Advisor to the Academy of Political Science, was able to find me a leadership role as Social Media Chair.”
Manion also served as Young’s undergraduate advisor, helping him navigate his way to graduation.
During her undergraduate studies, she became interested in some of the research done by faculty members such as Manion and Kimball. In particular, she has become curious about the disconnect in the popularity of issues such as medical marijuana and raising the minimum wage among voters with the success of candidates who oppose them.
She decided she wanted to explore these dynamics further and applied for the PhD program.
Since joining the program, she has researched and written articles on topics such as capital punishment while working as a teaching assistant. More recently, she began examining the school-to-prison pipeline in a new role as a Restorative Justice Fellow for Community Engagement at the ACLU.
Young began her fellowship last month after completing an initial internship as a complaints intake counselor earlier this year. In October, she will move to the Hayti, Missouri town of Bootheel to continue her role, hosting workshops and going door-to-door to share information while learning about the community.
This means she will once again be an online student as she works to complete her electives before starting her dissertation. But she expects to remain engaged with the Department of Political Science and civic engagement efforts at UMSL.
“I’m able to handle anything because I have amazing bosses and teachers to work with,” Young said. “The ACLU also knows I’m in school, so they let me work from home a few days a week to do my homework or if I have class. Dr. Kimball and everyone at UMSL were super flexible and worked with me when I said, “I’m doing this. It’s something that excites me. What can we do so that I can do everything? »
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