Bismarck, ND — If you were to ask this group of University of Mary students who won some of the local, state and national elections, they would probably be quick to tell you their names. But that wouldn’t be what they’re most proud of during this past election cycle.

“I am really proud of our organization and its efforts in voter information and getting the word out to vote,” said Gage Sitte, a University of Mary senior from Lisbon, ND, majoring in history education. “There was much confusion during this election, and given our great team, we worked really hard to make voting as easy as possible for students—and I believe we accomplished that.”

Sitte, Veronica Dvorak and Ryan Shields spent the better part of a year before the 2016 election coming together as a group learning about each other and gradually becoming the founders of the very first bi-partisan student political organization on campus called Marauders On Politics (MOP). As founders, they quickly enlisted other students of both party affiliation, 25 total at present count, and then dedicated themselves to election detail, educating their fellow classmates on voting rules and regulations and physically getting them to the voting booth.

“Many American’s don’t exercise their constitutional right and duty to vote,” explained Dvorak, a University of Mary senior from New England, ND, majoring in social studies education and social and behavioral science. “MOP worked hard to address voter apathy. I personally worked in organizing and coordinating the voter information booths. I also helped create the informational flyers and Facebook posts. Being involved in helping my fellow students exercise their right to vote was challenging but very rewarding. When someone came to me with questions about how they could vote, I was happy to assist them and make sure they understood the process. I was proud when people told me that they had been able to vote, especially due to help from MOP.”

Under the guidance of Mary faculty Dr. Mike Taylor, Dr. Karen Rohr and the Student Life Department, these students did exactly what the intent of this organization was meant to do.

Dr. Mike Taylor Associate Professor of Education at the University of Mary

Dr. Mike Taylor
Associate Professor of Education at the University of Mary

“It first speaks to one of our university’s core Benedictine values of hospitality; and secondly, it is where this generation of students seems to be heading in terms of being more focused on the particular issues, than political parties, or even politics in a traditional sense,” said Taylor, associate professor of education at Mary. “We worked hard to provide students with as much information as possible regarding, how, where, when to vote depending on where they were from. The proof seemed to be in the pudding, so to speak, on Election Day due to the line at United Tribes Technical College—our voting area—through the day as we ran shuttles to and from the polls. The greatest satisfaction came toward the end of voting in the evening when the remaining long line of voters were University of Mary student-athletes who had just got off from late practice. This effort was led by MOP membership coordinator, Eileen Leong.”

Now, the three founding members are being rewarded with an invite to the 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration Ceremony on Friday, January 20, 2017. All doubted the possibility of going, until they received word days ago.

“I did not think we would be attending the Presidential Inauguration,” added Dvorak. “I am very excited and blessed to attend this historic event. Witnessing history in action is a great opportunity. As a future social studies teacher, this opportunity is very beneficial for me. It will allow me to bring history to life for my students and I’ll be able to include my personal experience into my lessons.”

“When I came to Mary, I was just excited to be able to greet our university president, Monsignor James Shea, after Mass most weeks,” said Shields, native of Whitehall, Michigan. “I never thought I would be attending the inauguration of a United States president.”

“Not all our students share the same partisan perspective, but they recognize the virtuous aspects of our U.S. government—including the importance of the historic peaceful transference of power during the Presidential Inauguration,” added Taylor, who will be leading this group and attending his sixth Presidential Inauguration. “Most of these students attending are going to be future teachers in this area, and I feel very confident they will represent the true tenants of our Republic with their students in an attempt to give them unbridled access to the political process at any level.”

Sitte’s interest in history started in high school with the help of his grandfather who always spoke fondly of President John F. Kennedy. Today Sitte is student teaching and will no doubt add this historic experience to his curriculum when he becomes a high school history teacher.