Student activist group UConnPIRG had its largest kick-off in chapter history last night with 174 students in attendance, passing the previous record of 168 students set in 2003.
The large turnout correlates to goals set by certain campaigns within the group, such as the voter registration campaign, which is this year’s lead campaign.
“UConn is the biggest (PIRG chapter) in the state and one of the biggest in the country,” ConnPIRG Organizing Director Shawna Upton said.
ConnPIRG’s new voter registration campaign hopes to register 3,000 new voters by Election Day 2018. ConnPIRG hopes 2,500 of those 3,000 are University of Connecticut students, voter registration campaign head Emily O’Hara said.
“The number of people here speaks to reaching that goal,” O’Hara said.
Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill (D), who is seeking re-election, echoed that message.
“Hopefully some of you will join the program we are tonight launching with UConnPIRG,” Merrill said. “I think our goal should be every student on campus who is eligible to vote, is 18 and (is) a citizen should be registered. There’s no reason that should not happen. I encourage students to register on campus because you do have a voice.”
O’Hara also noted how proud she was of the turnout.
“I am mindblowingly excited,” O’Hara said. “We smashed our goal of 120 (people). It shows how much interest the students have.”
In addition to the new voter registration campaign, ConnPIRG’s initiative to make textbooks more affordable was discussed by student leaders Erin McConnell and Deevana Annavarjula, as well as Connecticut State Senator Mae Flexer (D) of the 29th District, of which Mansfield is a part.
Flexer said the open-sourced textbooks project has been one of the biggest projects she has worked on with PIRG during her time in the senate.
“UConn is in many ways leading the country in this,” Flexer said.
Abhishek Gupta is leading the Hunger and Homelessness campaign, which Flexer is also involved in. Gupta said he’s looking forward to pairing his work with Flexer to make a direct impact on the local community by focusing efforts on the food stamps program.
“We’re tying our efforts here within the community,” Flexer said.
Gabby Latorre is leading the charge on the “Save the Bees” initiative. One of Latorre’s main goals for the year is to work with students on planting a bee-friendly garden near South Dining Hall.
“I had no idea how important bees were in the community,” Latorre said.
Isabel Umland will be in charge of the zero-waste campaign in which she and other students will work with UConn Dining Services to help eliminate waste and throw less food away, as well as work towards a plastic bag ban, something Merrill is heavily involved with.
Parth Patel heads the 100 percent Renewable Energy campaign, which works towards making UConn a 100 percent renewable energy campus.
UConn students attending the event were excited for the coming year’s plans.
“I’m here because I want to get involved as a freshman in more areas,” first-semester accounting major Ryan Witkovic said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity.
Luke Hajdasz is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at [email protected]