On a stage filled with former mayors, writers, and a past leader of a small island nation, the Institute of Politics (IOP) showcased its new spring fellows last night at the ARCO Forum.
IOP Director Alan K. Simpson moderated the event, entitled "Perspectives on Politics," providing introductions for the new fellows in their first public appearance before the Harvard community.
The five new fellows took the opportunity to share how they became involved in politics and provided an overview of the study groups they will lead during the spring.
Jon Cowan, the chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will run a study group entitled "We Got Game," which will focus on how America's youth can become involved in politics.
As a young adult Cowan said he remembers wanting to get involved in civic life.
"We were very frustrated, to put it mildly, with sitting on the sidelines while our futures were getting mortgaged," he said.
Cowan, who also co-founded the youth political action group Lead...or Leave, said he hopes that students will lead rather than follow.
"If you are committed and willing to work hard, you can make a difference," Cowan told the audience. "I hope to teach you how to become a more effective player in the game of politics."
Tom Fetzer, who will lead a study group entitled "Better, Cheaper and Closer Government through Competition and Innovation" shared his experiences as former mayor of Raleigh, North Carolina to explain the importance of managing cities.
"Government doesn't operate in a market of competition," Fetzer said, describing how cities should try to operate more like businesses. "I got involved to infuse into government a spirit of competition."
Former Cincinnati mayor Roxanne Qualls will also bring her local government expertise to the IOP, focusing on the importance of city initiatives in her study group, "Shaping the City: People, Interests and Markets."
"What you have to do is look at mixed needs of your community," Qualls said. "The hardest challenges involve how to prioritize resources and make decisions that may please no one at first but pay off in the long run."
Qualls joked about her first involvement in local politics.
"Many people thought that civilization as we know it was over when I was elected mayor," she said.
On the international level, former Premier of Bermuda Pamela Gordon will provide a case study of how the island country is governed, and then link it to the American political process.
"I want to listen... and see why Americans feel the way they feel," Gordon said. "I want to find out more, not just about our differences, but also our similarities."
Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Fulwood will head a study group focusing on how the use of race issues by the media affects politics and public policy.
Fulwood cited his experiences covering the Los Angeles city riots as well as the struggles over apartheid in South Africa to explain the importance of having informed citizens.
"When people don't know what's going on around, all kinds of bad things can happen," he said. "We have to create an educated and informed citizenry."
The IOP study groups will begin next week, running Monday through Wednesday for the next eight weeks.