With an upcoming election underway in the Capital City, students and youth leaders alike are actively participating in civic engagement, focusing their efforts on increasing voter turnout and evoking change in the Trenton community.
This past summer, Science Mentors held their annual civics engagement project at the Trenton Public Library where students from various areas in Mercer county highlighted their collaboration on projects to increase political participation, and engaged in discussion with invited Trenton city council candidates from all wards.
Science Mentors 1 to 1 is a civic organization based in Trenton that aims to develop competency and self-esteem in high school students through the application of the scientific method to environmental issues facing society.
For this year’s annual civic engagement project, members of the organization focused on the importance of voting in the upcoming city election and demanding change.
This year’s theme Democracy Regatta sought to bring awareness to the lack of voting and registration in Trenton, with aims to further increase voter registration from 21% in the year 2021 to at least 60% in 2022. With the construction of boats that read “Integrity”, “Vote” and “Kindness,” the goal of the project was to encourage youth and adults alike to participate in democracy and use their voices to shape the kind of community they want to live in.
“Our boat-building experience can be comparable to democracy,” Jevon Lin, a student member with Science Mentors said. “In order for our cardboard boats to succeed in crossing, they must be stable and durable to carry our varied weights.”
In a speed-dating style interactive exercise, students drafted a series of questions to ask council candidates about their goals and plans to help the Trenton community.
Fatima Swaray, a Senior at Trenton Central High School took it to ask candidates about their plans for solving the drug, homelessness, and sexual education crisis – crucial questions that were at the heart of many students’ curiosity.
“We need politicians in office that actually care about these issues and actually want to fix them,” Swaray said.
As a student leader in Science Mentors, Swaray said that her efforts to encourage civic engagement included convincing peers in her class to join the organization and providing them with healthy alternatives to solve their problems.
With environmental innovation at the top of its priority list, Science Mentors aims to address the underrepresentation of minorities in the scientific workforce, by increasing the number of people of color both adults and youth in understanding Climate Change while inspiring them to be lifelong Climate Activists.
One candidate present at the event said that the city deserves leaders in office willing to get things done.
“Trenton deserves good leaders that are for and by the people,” the candidate said while talking to students. “I’m proud of our future, you guys asked some really good questions and I was really impressed to hear how you thought about certain things. It was a confirmation to hear that our younger students are watching the interactions about council people and leaders, leaders are supposed to be able to agree without being disagreeable.”
Science Mentor alumni and Trinity College junior Ayouba Swaray was invited to speak at the event, sharing his sentiments about the annual civic engagement project and the efforts he continues to promote change at home and away at college.
“It’s great to see where Science Mentors was from when I first started and seeing how they’ve used the intentionality of their mission and their resources to branch out into things such as civics and having a really profound impact on the community,” Swaray said. “I’m heavily involved in community service, I teach at the local school right across the street from my college and it was because of the skills and experiences I’ve had at Science Mentors that equipped me to take charge and do the things I do in Hartford.”
As an alumnus of Science Mentors myself, this organization is what began my interests in advocacy and civic engagement. From wonderful experiences tutoring 5th graders at PJ Hill, building a Tiny House for the homeless, to conducting experiments regarding water quality in Trenton, the knowledge I have gained as a student mentee in Science Mentors is one that has been applicable to all parts of my life. I want to lend a special thank you to Maureen J. Quinn, Philip Duran, and Daisy DePaz for providing my peers and I with an innovative perspective on change.
As election day nears, take a moment to think of the Trenton youth who are ready for pivotal change and action in the capital city of New Jersey. Make sure to cast your ballot on Nov. 8 and make the right choice. For more information on voting in person please visit Voting in Trenton, New Jersey.
“There can be no Climate Justice without Racial Justice.” – Science Mentors