Chris Ferguson

Students gather at stations to discuss initiatives for change at the White House Young American series Tuesday evening. The forum, hosted by the Annette Strauss institute for Civic Participation, gathers student around the Nation to discuss solutions for social problems affecting today’s youth.

Photo Credit: Zen Ren | Daily Texan Staff

Representatives from the White House connected with young community leaders Tuesday evening to learn about the social issues that are most concerning to today’s youth.

Officials from President Barack Obama’s administration selected UT to be part of the White House Young American Series. Almost 150 students and young members of the community attended the forum that was hosted by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation. Attendees engaged in discussion on issues critical to young Americans in order to work together to propose solutions.

Select students and community members gave short TED Talks-style presentations during which they highlighted models of civic engagement and addressed challenges faced by society. TED Talks presentations are short speeches that focus on important issues of public interest.

“We need an open dialogue to reduce social language barriers between groups and industries to solve community problems,” said architecture senior Chris Ferguson, one of the forum’s student presenters.

Ferguson discussed sustainability and how it can be achieved through a collective effort between architecture and various industries. Ferguson highlighted various student organizations that are already using their skills to help members of the Austin community by creating sustainability campaigns, building innovative solar problems and volunteering abroad.

Matt Glazer, executive director of political activist organization Progress Texas, presented his work with the organization that works to mobilize the 78 percent of Texans he said are not politically involved.

Glazer, 30, said he is on the “other end of the spectrum” of civic engagement because of his age and hopes that college students will take on the challenge of gathering to share ideas.

“You need to build your own army,” he said. “Take my rally call so that next year you’ll be up here pushing the important idea of mobilizing people to mobilize others.”

Other presentations included representatives from various local organizations including the mentorship program Advise TX, undocumented immigrant activist group University Leadership Initiative and the University chapter of Students of the World.

Ronnie Cho, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, is the president’s liaison to young Americans and created the series of forums on college campuses. Cho said the series was created to support the everyday work of Americans that can serve as catalysts for future change.

“This is not about 2012 but instead about 2112 and what we are going to do to build the next American century,” Cho said. “We want to know how you are taking care of your own and what we can do to help you.”

After presentations, attendees broke up into 25 small groups for open forum periods where they discussed issues dealing with health care, arts and education, immigration policy and poverty, among various other topics.

The White House Young America series launched last month at Arizona State University. The program at UT is the fourth of 17 forums that will be held at universities across the country.

Regina Lawrence, journalism professor and fellow of the Annette Strauss Institute, said UT was an ideal candidate for the forum because of its prominent role in higher education. She also said the University provides a large and diverse audience of college students with varying concerns and ideas.

Lawrence said the institute believes in engaging young individuals to become involved beyond politics and in their communities.

“This generation is known as a slacker generation that has lost all responsibility to others except to themselves,” she said. “But our students are proving to their elders how problems can be resolved in a civil and constructive manner instead of a divisive one.”