Last month two Wagner College freshmen — Nada Metwally of Tottenville, Staten Island and Adrienne Datta of San Diego, Cal. — were among just a dozen winners of a nationwide contest sponsored by Project Pericles: the 2014 “Debating for Democracy” Letter to an Elected Official Competition.
Since 2005, Wagner College has been one of the 29 colleges belonging to Project Pericles, a university collaborative dedicated to encouraging “social responsibility and civic concern” on campus, in the classroom and in the community.
Metwally and Datta were enrolled last fall, during their very first semester in college, in one of Wagner College’s three-course freshmen “learning communities,” which combine two linked classes from different scholarly disciplines with a “reflective tutorial,” or RFT, focused on learning how to research and write intelligently about their coursework.
Their LC, “Emerging Global Health Concerns,” was taught by nursing professor Annemarie Dowling-Castronovo and chemistry professor Nicholas Richardson.
“Annemarie had the idea of using the Project Pericles letter-writing competition as an assignment for our RFT,” Richardson said. “And the subject of hydraulic fracturing was perfect for our LC: a health issue with a science overlap that was a hot public policy topic. After I gave a 30-minute overview of the science — as unbiased as I could make it — we told our students to research and write persuasive letters about their views on fracking, whatever those views might be.”
“When the topic came up for discussion in class, we realized we had similar views and decided to work together on a letter,” Metwally said.
“Being science-oriented students, we did see the benefits,” Datta said. “We just want to see it done in a healthy way.”
Datta is enrolled in Wagner College’s physician assistant program, while Metwally entered Wagner as a pre-med student.
“Fracking might be great — with tighter regulations,” Metwally said.
And that was the essence of their carefully researched, carefully balanced letter to New York State Senator Diane Savino, whose district covers the North Shore of Staten Island and part of Brooklyn.
“As Wagner College students who are very concerned about the potential adverse impact of hydraulic fracking on the environment and on the public health of our fellow citizens, we urge you take a strong stance in favor of increasing regulation on hydraulic facturing in New York State,” the students wrote. “The economic benefits hydraulic fracturing could give the State are substantial, but they should not be at the cost of the health of our citizens.”
A joint letter from Project Pericles executive director Jan Liss and assistant director Garret Batten congratulated Metwally and Datta for their winning letter.
“Once again this year, Project Pericles received excellent submissions, and selecting the six winning teams was challenging but highly rewarding,” wrote the Project Pericles officials. “You did a fantastic job and we are excited about working with you and the other student activists as you develop your projects.”
The $500 prize for each team in the letter-writing contest must be used to develop further programs to raise public awareness and persuade official decision makers on their chosen issue.
“We’re glad we took this opportunity,” Metwally said. “Not a lot of people get their voices heard.”