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University of Iowa News Release


June 30, 2009

UI political scientists engage Chicago teens in polling project

Officials in Washington, Iowa, want to know what residents think the town's priorities should be. A University of Iowa outreach project will deliver the answers while teaching 28 high school students from Chicago a lot about polling, public policy and the value of higher education.

With UI political scientists, the students will design, execute and analyze a public opinion poll July 5-9. They will present the results to the city council, which will use the data to make public policy decisions for the community.

The project is supported by the UI Office of the Special Assistant to the President for Equal Opportunity and Diversity and Associate Provost for Diversity. It is a partnership with Mikva Challenge, which engages low-income Chicago youth in politics to develop future civic leaders. The nonpartisan organization was founded in 1997 as a tribute to former White House counsel, judge and U.S. Congressman Abner Mikva and his wife Zoe, an education activist.

"It's truly a win-win situation," said Tom Rice, professor and chair of the political science department in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "The students will have a chance to actively participate in public policy, and we're giving them a taste of the college experience, which we hope will inspire them to pursue higher education. It's also a tremendous service to the city."

The UI professors will work with the students to design a questionnaire, contact a random sample of 400 community residents, execute the surveys at the UI Social Science Research Center telephone center and analyze the data using a standard software package.

The teens, ranging in age from 15 to 17, will prepare a summary of the results and present it to the Washington City Council at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 9, at City Hall, 215 E. Washington St. in Washington. City officials will treat the students to a dinner of Iowa pork chops and corn-on-the-cob at 6 p.m. at the YMCA of Washington, 121 E. Main St. Before dinner, the students will be free to walk around the town square to explore the shops and enjoy an outdoor band concert. 

"The poll will give us a clear picture of the direction our residents want the city to take, and it's representative of the entire community," said David Plyman, city administrator of Washington, a rural community of 7,000 located 30 miles south of Iowa City. "The timing is perfect because we're embarking on an update to the comprehensive plan, a 10- to 20-year planning document that outlines what kinds of improvements we should be working toward."

The students will live in UI residence halls for the week; while on campus, they will be introduced to aspects of college life. UI officials will present opportunities for undergraduates, including the wide range of majors and tips on applying to colleges.

Rice and UI political scientist David Redlawsk will supervise the project. Mikva Executive Director Brian Brady and six Mikva counselors will also attend.

Details on the Mikva Challenge are available at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Tom Rice, UI Department of Political Science, 319-335-2249,; David Redlawsk, UI Department of Political Science, 319-335-2352 (office), 319-400-1134 (cell),; Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070,