Undergrads Rewarded for Advocacy Efforts on Behalf of the FRAC Act
Widener University undergraduates Leelabati Biswas, a freshman biology major from Voorhees, N.J., and Katrina Kelly, a junior political science and international relations major from Crum Lynne, Pa., recently traveled to New York City to present a letter they had drafted to Sen. Patrick Toomey on the hazards of hydraulic fracturing. Their letter was one of five selected, out of more than 50 entries, by Project Pericles, a not-for-profit organization that encourages and facilitates commitments by colleges and universities to include social responsibility and participatory citizenship as essential elements of their educational programs.
As finalists in the Project Pericles letter-writing competition, Biswas and Kelly earned a free trip to New York City for the nonprofit’s Debating for Democracy conference, which featured workshops, keynote addresses, and panel discussions on social action, social media, income inequality, the federal budget deficit and the role of nonprofits in our democracy, among other topics. A highlight of the conference was the D4D Legislative Hearings, during which Biswas and Kelly presented their letter alongside the other finalists.
The legislative hearing allowed Biswas and Kelly to discuss the issue of hydraulic fracturing and legislation pertaining to this issue, such as the FRAC Act, with a panel of former elected officials and other public policy experts. This year’s panelists included former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Constance Berry Newman, former Mayor of Baltimore Kurt L. Schmoke and former U.S. Sen. Harris L. Wofford (D-PA).
As finalists in the letter-writing competition, Biswas and Kelly received $500 to continue their lobbying efforts on behalf of the FRAC Act, which would require gas companies to disclose chemicals used during “fracking” on private lands and make the companies accountable to EPA regulations. Widener’s Office of Community Engagement and Diversity Initiatives has matched this reward to help Biswas and Kelly fund a lobbying day in either Harrisburg, Pa., or Washington D.C. to advocate for the FRAC Act and other initiatives that will prevent the contamination of drinking water from “hydrofracking.”
Kelly took up this cause after learning in an environmental policy class that “hydrofracking” could potentially have an effect on her drinking water as a Pennsylvania resident. “After that class, I made it my personal mission to find out everything I could about hydraulic fracturing and then share that knowledge with others,” Kelly said. She has presented her findings at more than 16 different town hall meetings throughout Delaware County and even wrote to Gov. Tom Corbett daily throughout the month of November to point out the risks associated with “fracking.”
“I had also sent letters to Toomey since he seems to agree with the governor’s stance on the importance of drilling regardless of what it may do to his constituents,” Kelly said. “This Project Pericles competition was a way for me to share my writing with others and get the opinions of top policy experts as to how to continue fighting for safer drilling practices.”
Biswas and Kelly connected as members of Widener’s political engagement committee. When they realized they shared a similar interest in the issue of hydraulic fracturing, they decided to team up for the Project Pericles competition. Widener is one of 29 Periclean institutions in the U.S.
Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener is comprised of eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university’s campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve some 6,700 students. Visit the university website, www.widener.edu.
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