It’s Tuesday morning, and a group of international students is gathered in the Inferno Café in Founders Hall with Rachel Haos, program director of Alverno’s International and Intercultural Center. Some sit quietly sipping coffee, and others talk among themselves before directing their attention to Haos, who explains what they’re about to observe.
Classes are canceled for the day — it’s presidential Election Day. And this group of students is heading to Audubon Technology and Communication High School, a polling location across the street from Alverno, to serve as election observers.
“It was exciting and interesting to imagine what was going through their minds,” says Haos, who with Judeen Schulte, SSSF, teaches the American Ways course for international students. “This is a group of incredibly engaged students, and I saw that when we first started talking about observing the election process.”
None of this group had experienced a U.S. election, but some have voted in their home countries. Home for this particular group is China, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. Additionally, an American student and a U.S. citizen whose family settled in Sheboygan by way of a refugee camp in Thailand are accompanying the others, prepared to vote in their first election.
Since 2008 on presidential Election Day, Alverno has closed to encourage all members of its community to be involved in the political process and practice Effective Citizenship, one of the college’s eight trademark Abilities. Also, for the fifth time since 2008, about 50 Alverno students were trained to work at the polls, including greeting voters, verifying voters’ polling sites, registering new voters, assisting the chief election inspector at each site, handing out ballots, handling voting machines and more.
Naho Yonekawa, a fourth-year student, is a native of Akita City, located in the Tōhoku region of northern Honshu, the main island of Japan. She’s an exchange student from Akita International University who is studying Global and Women’s Studies, and she was eager to observe the election process. What she didn’t anticipate was that the Audubon School library resource room where voters queued to vote was what she called “lively.”
“People were talking, and there was a lot of energy. It’s quiet when I have been at a voting site at home,” notes Yonekawa, who says that citizens from her town in Japan also vote at schools, as well as at municipal buildings. “I was happy to have had this experience.”
On Election Day, international and exchange students who served as election observers came from Chile, China, England, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Northern Ireland, South Korea and Sri Lanka. The Poll Worker Training Project was funded by a grant and was in partnership with the City Of Milwaukee Election Commission. Alverno is the only college or university in the area that trained students to work at the polls, and the project received the Wisconsin Campus Compact’s 2014 Esther Letven Campus-Community Partnership Award. The award recognizes outstanding partnerships between higher education and the community that produce measurable community impact and student growth and learning.