The University of New Mexico is one of 25 colleges and universities to be selected to participate in the "Up to Us" competition, a partnership between the Clinton Global Initiative University, Net Impact and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

Students from UNM and the other schools will be looking to create awareness and engagement among their peers on an issue critical to their future – the nation’s long-term fiscal path.

At UNM, students in the International Business Students Global submitted a proposal.  Their advisor is Manuel Montoya, assistant professor in FITE, finance, international, technology and entrepreneurship management, in the Anderson School of Management. Montoya said, “These students are among the best at UNM. They are self-motivated and have a genuine interest in the global agenda and the fiscal crisis.”

“Students will graduate and go out into the workforce or on to graduate school. We will inherit the national debt, which will be a bigger monster. We need to talk about it now to understand it, address it and seek solutions,” said Victoria Pryor, IBSG student.

Each student team of up to five core members will develop a campaign to educate and engage their campus community on America’s growing debt and how it could impact their future. At the end of the five-week campaign, each team will be assessed by a panel of distinguished judges on its effectiveness at raising awareness, increasing personal connections, and inspiring action on campus and beyond.

The UNM core team of five students is taking the lead and will bring in others to participate in the competition, set for January 21 through February 21, 2014.  Pryor, international management and economics major, is team captain; Earl Shank, business, entrepreneurship and economics major, is deputy project manager and logistics; Rachel Williams, international studies and political science major, leads engagement; Taylor Bui, English and history major, leads outreach; and Travis Dockter, entrepreneurship major, leads video production.

Shank said that localizing debt issues is an important component. “The lottery scholarship in New Mexico helps many students graduate with minimal debt, especially when compared to California, my home state. Helping students understand how to avoid debt and change conditions are ways to campaign to young people,” he said.

Dockter worked for a credit card company. “Individual debt is a huge issue that is kept under the bed. People don’t talk about it. People don’t have a sense of their own debt, much less the scale of the national debt. There needs to be dialog about it,” he said.

The group needs to help students understand the scale of debt that the country carries, Pryor said. “People understand $1 million, even $1 billion, but not $16 trillion. It’s beyond the grasp of most people to understand what it looks like and what it means.”

Williams said that the value of the dollar affects our “international personality” and the country’s ability to address global issues, such as peacekeeping. “The United Nations General Assembly addressed the stance of the United States internationally,” she said.  

Shank said that the implications extend beyond financial. “The strength of the U.S. dollar gives validity to U.S. policymaking globally. When it looks like the U.S. might default on its loans, there is a risk to trade agreements and policymaking.  Debt, and the scale of the U.S. debt is important because the U.S. dollar is a symbol of our rating,” he said.

Since the initiative is a competition, the students aren’t rolling out their big ideas yet, but they will be coming.

Montoya added, “These students are cultivating a new culture in the academy. They are not content just to be good students. They are public scholars whose efforts will be meaningful and impactful.”

Budget experts agree that if the gap between federal revenue and spending is not reduced over the next 25 years, there will be serious consequences for our long-run growth and economic stability. Rising interest payments on the debt alone would leave fewer resources to invest in areas like education, infrastructure and research, seriously debilitating the nation’s ability to ensure a positive economic outlook for future generations. The first year of the competition included students at 10 schools who brought awareness to the long-term debt issue through creative campaigns, featuring flash mobs, petitions, videos and campus speaking events.

Liz Maw is chief executive officer of Net Impact, a leading global nonprofit that empowers a new generation of leaders to work for a sustainable future. “Instead of standing on the sidelines, students are stepping up to engage their generation in this critical issue that affects their futures," she said.

Former President Bill Clinton said, “Last year at Clinton Global Initiative University, I announced the $10,000 winner of the Up to Us competition. As we plan for CGI U 2014, I’m excited to see more students participating in this year’s challenge. They represent the next generation of leaders who have the ideas and resolve to face one of our nation’s biggest challenges.”