Student think tank debuts in Washington

There is nothing remarkable about another think tank – except when it is mostly made up of people too young to run for political office.

That’s the idea behind the Roosevelt Institution, the United States’ first student think tank, which launched the first issue of its national student policy journal the Roosevelt Review last week on Capitol Hill. The journal features pieces on various public policy issues written by undergraduates from across the country.

The first issue features articles covering a diverse range of topics that includes access to health insurance in the United States, AIDS vulnerability amongst married women in South Africa and solar energy. An editorial board comprised of students and policy specialists screened some 200 papers to select just eight for the first edition.

Members of the think tank hope the journal’s debut will be a big boost for the Institution. Students from Roosevelt chapters around the country have been hand-delivering copies to members of Congress, and an additional 4,000 copies have been distributed to various public policy organizations.

The Roosevelt Institution began just after the 2004 presidential election, when disappointed students at Stanford University began brainstorming the idea of a progressive, student-led think tank. The group later joined a group at Yale University working on a similar project, formally launching Roosevelt Institution last February.

The institution’s stated goal is to create a “national network of student think tanks that provide the organizational infrastructure to get student ideas into the public discourse.” The think tank’s leaders view students as an underutilized resource, and see their organization as a way for students’ ideas to enter the public discourse.

“By providing a little infrastructure, we can bring ideas of the next generation to the decision makers of today,” Kai Stinchcombe, president of the Roosevelt Institution, said in a statement.

The idea seems to be catching on. In just under a year, the Roosevelt Institution has expanded to over 120 colleges and universities around the country.

“The ultimate goal is to have a chapter of Roosevelt at every institution of higher learning in the country,” Andrew Cox, spokesperson for the Institution’s Yale chapter, said in a statement.

The Institution’s growth has earned it some influential fans on the political left. Katrina von Heuvel, editor of the liberal opinion journal The Nation, praised the think tank in a column on the magazine’s Web site.

“The campus left looks more organized and unified than it has been in decades,” she said.

But while the institution is off to a fast start, it may be difficult to keep that pace. One major concern is funding. It has so far relied on foundation grants and individual contributions that could dry up at any time. Members said their looking into additional fundraising methods.

And because the think tank is student-run, some have questioned whether it can maintain stability.

Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of Roosevelt’s advisory board, told the New York Times that while he supports the concept of the institution, it might be hard to sustain with new leadership every four years.

“It’s always difficult for students to make something like this work because they’re only here for a few years and then they go on,” Diamond said. “The problem of continuity is enormous.”

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