UC Berkeley student receives public service scholarship to increase student voting

Natanya Faitelson/Courtesy
Campus senior Miyako Iwata has been awarded a $15,000 scholarship by the Donald A. Strauss Scholarship Foundation, which strives to help college students develop an interest in and carry out public service.

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Although the Big Game may be postponed this year, it is not too late to show UC Berkeley school spirit at the ballot box, according to Miyako Iwata, campus senior and recent recipient of the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship.

The Donald A. Strauss Scholarship Foundation aims to encourage college students to develop an interest in public service and to carry that spirit throughout their lives, according to trustee Duncan Strauss. This year, Iwata will be using her scholarship for the PAC-12 Voting Challenge, a friendly cross-campus competition to get students excited about voting.

“When I got to the Bay Area, I was really struck by this whole Cal-Stanford hype that I saw,” Iwata said. “I thought to myself, ‘Maybe, if we can take even a little bit of that energy and translate that into voting and civic engagement and participation, then that would be super cool.’”

Over the past 24 years, the scholarship foundation has awarded approximately 300 students with the scholarship needed for their projects.

According to Strauss, one of the key elements prized by the scholarship and an important component of chosen projects is sustainability. He added that most accepted projects continue to this day, creating a ripple effect both locally and nationally.

“One of the things we realized is there hasn’t been as many projects that deal with voters,” Strauss said. “We were very pleased to see Miyako; her project really was about getting UC Berkeley students enthused and excited about voting and becoming more civically engaged.”

According to Iwata, her inspiration for the voting challenge stemmed from the “abysmal turnout” of young voters, as well the lack of representation she felt as one of the few mixed-race people in Oregon. From this, Iwata developed her passion for helping people of different racial backgrounds gain representation.

With this goal in mind, the PAC-12 Voting Challenge is aimed at increasing student turnout through healthy school rivalry. The project consists of various outreach events and civic engagement panels that will ultimately culminate in a virtual concert in October for the UC Berkeley community.

“You can’t force someone to vote in exchange for something, but we really want to encourage folks to register, ask the questions they might have, update their registration and then enjoy the virtual concert,” Iwata said.

The aim of the civic engagement panels is to openly discuss issues that are pertinent to different backgrounds, according to Iwata. She added that there has already been a panel with ASUC Senator Naomi Garcia and LGBTQ+ speakers and people of color.

Although these events are for the general campus community, Iwata said different events are tailored to different communities and identities to explore their reasons for voting.

Currently, Iwata is reaching out to Cal Athletics in hopes of establishing a video campaign and Cal Band to build on school spirit.

“Although we’re all far apart, at the end of the day, we’re all part of the Cal community,” Iwata said. “That’s just really the feeling that I’m trying to build, in whatever way I can.”

Zoe Chen is a research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @zoe_chen820.