Longwood junior Joseph Hyman speaks with Traci DeShazor, deputy secretary of the commonwealth, and Praise Nyambiya after a roundtable discussion on boosting millennial civic engagement hosted by Longwood last fall.
Longwood junior Joseph Hyman speaks with Traci DeShazor, deputy secretary of the commonwealth, and Praise Nyambiya after a roundtable discussion on boosting millennial civic engagement hosted by Longwood last fall.

Longwood senior Praise Nyambiya ’18 described his recent service on the Governor’s Millennial Civic Engagement Task Force as a “life-changing experience.” Then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe created the task force in 2017 and charged it with finding new ways to encourage and promote civic engagement among Virginia’s college and university population. Nyambiya, a biology major and senior class president, was one of 17 college student representatives selected to serve on the task force. He attended several meetings in Richmond, as well as roundtable discussions on university and college campuses around Virginia—including one hosted by Longwood. In December, Nyambiya and other members of the task force presented their recommendations to McAuliffe. The following Q&A describes his experience.

How would you describe this opportunity and how did it change you?

I was very involved when Longwood hosted the Vice Presidential Debate in 2016, so I got to meet a lot of people and see the political process up close. However, this was my first experience participating in the governing side of things. It was an amazing opportunity: We were charged with developing civic engagement initiatives and figuring out ways to foster the growth of civic engagement culture on college campuses. So it was a big task. It definitely opened my eyes to the importance of getting millennials more involved and encouraging them to take ownership of our communities and civic institutions. It gave me a new appreciation of the phrase we use a lot at Longwood—citizen leadership.

It gave me a new appreciation of the phrase we use a lot at Longwood—citizen leadership.

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What did you learn by serving on the task force?

I came to understand that millennials definitely have some barriers when it comes to voting and being civically involved. One of the major things is the time constraints of being a student. That was one of the biggest factors we heard as to why some college students weren’t more engaged. I think it’s also more difficult due to the polarized environment we are in these days. Some students don’t understand how to be engaged while staying in accordance with the policies of their college or university. It’s just a matter of finding the middle ground in having your voice heard while still complying with the rules. This experience gave me a whole range of perspectives about how one can be civically engaged—from community service learning, being active in student government, and participating in political discourse events and extracurricular activities that involve political action projects—while balancing life as a college student.

What was one highlight from your experience?

I got to interact with—and gain the perspective of—a lot of people with varied backgrounds. Getting to meet Gov. McAuliffe several times, as well as now-Gov. Ralph Northam was pretty remarkable. Also the networking that I did with state government officials, such as Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson and Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth Traci DeShazor, as well as with leaders and students from other colleges and universities in Virginia, was great. I became good friends with some of the people I served with on the task force. Meeting fellow students and getting their perspective about voting and civic engagement on campus was one of the biggest benefits.

I also learned you don’t have to be in politics to be civically engaged. There are plenty of doctors, teachers and people working in other fields who are great models of civic leadership and engagement in their communities.

Praise Nyambiya ’18 Tweet This

Longwood senior Praise Nyambiya sits with then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe as the Governor’s Millennial Civic Engagement Task Force delivers its recommendations in December.
Longwood senior Praise Nyambiya sits with then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe as the Governor’s Millennial Civic Engagement Task Force delivers its recommendations in December.

What were your recommendations to the governor?

One of our recommendations was to make it easier for colleges and universities to have a polling location on campus. Right now, only large schools like the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and James Madison University have polling locations on campus—which makes it much easier for students to vote. At smaller schools like Longwood, students have to venture off campus to vote or go through the process of voting absentee. We also recommended developing a voter-registration template specifically for students to use to register to vote. In short, our recommendations reflected our belief that registering to vote and voting should be as accessible as possible for college students.

How do you think this experience shaped your future career?

I’m planning to go into medicine, but I always like to do things outside of my chosen field—to put my foot in different places and branch out. This experience taught me about the value of networking and gaining the perspectives of a wide variety of people. It was fun—and a little nerve-racking—to present our recommendations to the governor. But I think it was also valuable to get to see one aspect of the process of governing. I also learned you don’t have to be in politics to be civically engaged. There are plenty of doctors, teachers and people working in other fields who are great models of civic leadership and engagement in their communities.

Will the task force continue going forward?

I think the work is going to continue, absolutely. Most importantly it will continue on our college campuses, where students will take the lead. At Longwood, we have the Citizen Leadership and Social Justice Education program—as well as the Citizen Leadership Institute—that specifically target community engagement and dialogue in order to prepare students to make positive contributions to society after they graduate. At our last meeting with Gov. McAuliffe we talked about how it’s incumbent upon us now to tackle the issue of millennial involvement and find ways on our campuses to foster a greater culture of civic engagement among students. I see that as part of my role in the time I have left here at Longwood, and I will carry it with me after graduation.

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