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Oklahoma Christian University students competed against 75 colleges and helped hundreds of students contact their elected officials in Washington, D.C.

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Originally published by Eagle PR, a student-run PR firm at Oklahoma Christian University. Read the original post, or learn more about PR at OC.

Students at Oklahoma Christian University are some of the best in the nation at helping voters to address the nation’s debt. The work by public relations students at OC to raise awareness and organize student outreach to elected officials about the federal deficit was selected this week as the seventh-best Up to Us campaign in the U.S. The competition attracts 75-100 colleges each year.

Launched in 2012, Up to Us is a national and intentionally nonpartisan college program that sponsors the annual competition to raise awareness of federal fiscal issues. The work is especially pressing as the federal deficit is now more than $30 trillion.

OC’s Up to Us campaign was run by Eagle PR, an award-winning, student-run public relations agency. The winning campaigns were determined by their ability to engage peers, use of creative strategies, earned and social media efforts and overall impact of the campaigns. The first-place team was from Stony Brook University. OC joined other top-10 teams from colleges such as the University of Notre Dame and Northeastern Illinois University.

Up to Us’ Associate Director Monica V. Rodrigues praised the top-10 teams in this year’s competition.

"The next generation of leaders is well aware of the issues that impact their collective future,” Rodrigues said. “Up to Us, now in its 10th year, continues to provide rising leaders with tools and resources to engage on policy issues and become effective advocates for their own future."

OC’s Eagle PR team, which also received a $1,000 prize for the students, was led by Danica Hammack, a senior from Modesto, California. Hammack emphasized the impact Up to Us had on her and the team.

"Partnering with our school alumni and other groups to discuss the impacts of national debt really emphasized how important a single voice can be,” Hammack said. “Being able to say that our team finished in the top 10 of the nation just goes to show how far good teamwork and creative minds can carry a campaign. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to lead our team and to see our hard work really pay off."

The other members of the team were Jaidyn Ahl, from Meridian, Idaho; Taylor Hankins, from Fort Smith, Arkansas; Emma Higginbottom, from Rochester Hills, Michigan; Cassidy Littlewood, from Springfield, Missouri; Chris Meyer, from Mustang, Oklahoma; Makiley Rhodes, from Lufkin, Texas; Kelly Webber Foxx, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and Kaitlyn Willis, from Sekiu, Washington. The faculty advisor of the campaign was OC Associate Professor of Communication Josh Watson.

“These students worked so hard during the challenges of a pandemic to make a real, measurable difference in our community,” Watson said. “The work they did significantly prepares them to be professional, strategic communicators who inspire civic dialogue that unites voters along shared values rather than divides via differences.”

OC’s campaign was called “Policy Above Parties” and focused on unifying members of both parties to reduce national debt through policy. The Eagle PR team researched, planned, implemented and evaluated their campaign in the fall of 2021. The students conducted pre- and post-campaign focus groups and surveys, created a campaign website and social media channels and content, staged events such as a special Taking Sides debate and ran a social club competition that helped more than 200 OC undergraduates contact their elected officials in D.C., urging them to address the federal deficit.

Previously, Eagle PR had been named a top-20 campaign for Up to Us competitions in 2018 and 2020. The student group has also earned top-20 campaign recognitions from the Public Relations Student Society of America for its Bateman Competition in 2016 and 2018. Eagle PR’s work also earned professional honors from the Public Relations Society of America Oklahoma City chapter’s Upper Case Awards and the Oklahoma College Public Relations Association. Eagle PR alumni have gone on to work in some of the top corporations, nonprofits and PR agencies in the U.S.

One leader from each Up to Us top-10 student team also received an all-expenses paid trip to Washington to meet with leaders addressing the federal budget deficit. These leaders and organizations include White House budget professionals, congressional committee chairs, the world-renowned Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative University, national PR firms like Finn Partners and journalism organizations like Politico. The finalists and winners of the 2021-2022 campus competition were chosen by independent judges, some of whom then met the students in Washington. Up to Us alumni have gone on to pursue careers as public servants, journalists, policy professionals and many other community or civic leadership roles.

"Leadership, ideas and energy from the next generation are sorely needed in today's policy conversation, and the wide range of Up to Us participants from colleges across the country have risen to the challenge,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which funds Up to Us. "It's critical that younger Americans become more involved in the key policy decision that will decide their future."