Turning Students’ Vision Into Reality: Roosevelt’s Campus Network at 10

By Roosevelt Institute |

As the nation’s largest student policy organization approaches its 10th anniversary, an alumna and former staffer reflects on how it has evolved and what lies ahead.

It was September 2005, a few weeks into my first year at Middlebury College, and I was visiting tables at the student activities fair. I had already signed up for several clubs when I heard someone say something, rather loudly, about getting my ideas published and in front of policymakers. I got the pitch: it was the nation’s first ever student-run think tank, then called the Roosevelt Institution, and it was committed to getting student ideas into the policy process. I had no idea how that 10-minute conversation would shape the next 10 years of my life. The organization that would become the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network was still in its infancy; I showed up to the first general interest meeting and was promptly given a chapter leadership role. In the months to follow, I learned how to run meetings, facilitate research, and write policy recommendations. I knew I had found something bigger than myself, or even my school.

The Campus Network turns 10 years old in December 2014. This past weekend, a group of former Roosevelt students gathered for the first of many meetings in New York City to talk about the 10th anniversary celebration, which will set the stage for a longer-term effort to re-engage former members around shared aspects of our incredible story. As we sat together and learned about the more recent Campus Network initiatives, we were, frankly, proud and impressed.

The evolution of the Campus Network is evident in the ambition and scope of the work students are doing. Over the years, the Campus Network has spread to more than 125 campuses, including 13 community colleges. The Summer Academy program, which allows students to develop policy proposals while working alongside government, think tanks, and non-profits, started in Washington, D.C. in 2008; it now operates in four cities and receives a growing number of applications. We used to publish eight or nine student-generated ideas a year in the Roosevelt Review; now the organization publishes 60 a year in the 10 Ideas journal series. And though the organization has changed names and headquarters, it has remained student-run and student-driven. 

The mentality of the students has evolved along with the work. They realized their ideas had more relevance and potential when designed for and implemented in their local communities. They began to think about how to put their ideas into action themselves, in collaboration with the important stakeholders, instead of simply pitching them to elected leaders. And at the same time, they expressed a desire for a national narrative to connect their work across the country. This led to the creation of Think 2040, an initiative designed to identify students’ values and how they relate to their generation’s policy goals. Conversations were held and data was compiled at campuses across the country, which led to a series of documents that established a clear vision for a Millennial-driven future: the Blueprint for Millennial America, the Budget for Millennial America, and Government By and For Millennial America. The Campus Network is now taking this model to the local level through initiatives like Rethinking Communities and NextGen Illinois.

As the alumni gathered to learn about the state of the Campus Network and where the organization is heading, we were all reminded of particular moments and events that resonated with us. We all identified with different parts of the story: which publications did we write for, which Hyde Park summit did we attend, did we apply to the Summer Academy? We are still fundamentally connected to this journey and invested in this idea space, and we share certain values because we were shaped by this experience. We recognize that we all embraced the same mission and pitch: that young people and their ideas matter, that those ideas can be put to work now, and that students don’t have to wait until they’re in positions of power to make an impact.

In the coming years, the Campus Network wants to reconnect with alumni, support them in their work, and offer them a greater array of opportunities to stay up to date and engaged with the network moving forward. We want to encourage more intentional connections between alumni and current students, offer professional development for former members, recognize contributions from students and chapters over the last 10 years, create alumni profiles and features, and foster connections at the local level. Above all, we want to create a space that reflects the needs and interests of the broader Roosevelt community. In celebrating such growth and success at the organization’s 10th anniversary, we can also look ahead to its 25th. What do we want for Roosevelt then?

We are excited to reach out and build something great for all generations of Roosevelt members. Every success on every level made us what we are today. If you’re interested in staying in touch, let us know! And if you’re not a current or former Campus Network member but are interested in our work, stay tuned: there’s much more to come.

Tarsi Dunlop is the former Director of Operations for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. She currently works at an education nonprofit in Alexandria.

Photos: Campus Network alumni gather in New York City for a 10th anniversary celebration; the author with Roosevelt Institute VP of Networks and Campus Network National Director Taylor Jo Isenberg.

The Roosevelt Institute brings together thousands of thinkers and doers—from emerging leaders in every state to Nobel laureate economists. We reimagine the rules that guide our social and economic realities. Follow us on Twitter @rooseveltinst and like us on Facebook.