Photo courtesy of Up to Us
Pat-Med alum takes on D.C.
College students know a lot about debt.
But Evan Rufrano, a junior at SUNY Old Westbury, is not only concerned with looming student loans, but also the growing national debt, which has soared to over $21 trillion. Earlier this semester, Rufrano joined a team of students on campus competing in the 2018 Up to Us competition. According to their website, Up to Us is a nonpartisan, millennial and Gen Z-driven movement that is elevating the next generation’s collective voice to raise awareness about the $21T-and-growing national debt.
This year, more than 100 universities across the country participated in the 2018 campus competition, which tasks teams with educating and engaging their classmates on the issue of national debt.
Led by Rufrano, SUNY Old Westbury won this year’s competition and was invited to Washington, D.C. to attend the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s Fiscal Summit, meet with local leaders, and accept their cash prize. Rufrano, a 2015 graduate of Patchogue-Medford High School, spoke with the Advance on the phone from D.C. about the competition, his future in politics, and why millennials should care about national issues.
Long Island Advance: Congratulations on your big win. How are you liking D.C?
Evan Rufrano: Thank you! It’s wonderful. I always love being in D.C. There’s a feeling you get when you’re here ... you can see that this is where laws are made and where things happen that really impact the nation.
LIA: You also got to meet with Rep. Tom Suozzi, who represents the district including your campus. What did you discuss?
ER: We spoke to him about the nation and issues facing young people, and bring back what we learned from students on our campus to our representatives’ offices.
LIA: After you graduated from Pat-Med, why did you decide to study politics?
ER: What brought me to Old Westbury is my major, politics, economics and law, with a minor in industrial labor relations. It’s a really unique major and having the opportunity to study all three disciplines has been a great experience.
LIA: Tell me about your experience with Up to Us
ER: Students interview to be selected into the competition and, from there, receive weekly trainings and webinars from fiscal policy experts. It’s a 10-week program and we entered late, so it was really pedal to the metal.
LIA: How was your team able to make an impact on campus?
ER: Our debt boulevard did really well. We used chalk on the sidewalks all over campus to showcase statistics and definitions. 75 percent of our campus is commuters, and generally, students get out of their cars and go to class. We made sure they saw our message. As we worked, students were coming up to us, wondering how it’s even possible that we’re in this much debt. [The national debt] is a complex issue, but we simplified the message to bring it back to students and get them more involved.
LIA: What else did the team come up with?
ER: We did a number of kickoff and tabling events, hosted a My Two Cents day, where distinguished faculty spoke about economics, gave classroom presentations and hosted a panel of elected officials, who spoke about the growing debt.
LIA: What surprised you about the competition?
ER: The gap in information, which I believe we were successfully able to narrow by the end. We asked students how large they thought the national debt was, and what they think our top three expenditures are as a nation. Not many people knew what we spend our money on and believe national defense is the largest part of the budget. It’s not.
LIA: What is?
ER: It’s in the top three, but we spend more on Social Security and healthcare. We then asked students what their priorities would be in terms of spending. It was an interesting perspective, because their responses were generally at the bottom of Congress’ priorities. Students wanted to see education made a spending priority, which was not surprising, since we’re on a SUNY campus. Environment was another top priority, and most shocking was that 21 percent of students said they’d like to see increased aid to foreign nations.
LIA: What made your team stand out?
ER: I think the judges liked our debt boulevard, but also that we got over 1,000 students to sign a pledge urging representatives for a bipartisan solution to the debt. We engaged 75 percent of our student population around the issues. I think that spoke out to the judges.
LIA: Why should young people care about the national debt?
ER: We might not feel the impact now, but we are the generation that will inherit this debt. It will be our problem in the future.
Like what you have read? Click here to subscribe to the Long Island Advance so you can read more stories like this, and find out everything that’s going on in your town!