Jes Davis definitely wants Hokies to vote. But after Election Day is over, she also wants us to find other ways to engage in civic life.   

"Voting is one important way to participate in civic life, but there are many other ways to engage in your community every day," said Davis, assistant director for leadership and civic engagement at VT Engage: The Center for Leadership and Service Learning. "This can include everything from learning to have difficult conversations about complex issues to going to town council or school board meetings. Civic engagement includes being active in your community and knowing what issues your neighbors care about." 

In fall 2018, VT Engage's work expanded from service learning and leadership education to include a focus on civic engagement. These three pillars of the center's work are all focused on the ultimate vision of the VT Engage team: to equip civic leaders to create a more just world. This vision ties to the overall mission of Student Affairs to build life skills for all students and to contribute to their personal growth. 

"In Student Affairs, we develop all of our programs around our Aspirations for Student Learning. Civic engagement work ties to all of them, especially 'practice civility' and 'pursue self-understanding and integrity,'" said Byron Hughes, dean of students. "These aspirations, to us, are all about learning from and listening to one another, seeking to understand, and respecting each other. Ultimately, as a public, land-grant our mission is to equip our students to align their passion to serve with our communities. The VT Engage team is helping teach these important skills to students."

Part of achieving VT Engage's vision is to make the center a space that brings people together from across campus and community (and across the spectrum of political affiliation) to address common goals of learning to be engaged community members as well as becoming well-informed voters. These partners have included the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, the Office for Inclusion and Diversity, the Cultural and Community Centers, Athletics, and University Libraries. In spring 2021, these combined efforts led to Virginia Tech being named a Voter-Friendly Campus by NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and the Campus Vote Project. 

Loading player for

Above: in 2020, VT Engage student leaders helped fellow students get to the polls and cast their votes for the national election. This year, shuttle rides will be offered again on Early Vote Day (Saturday, Oct. 23) for Virginia Tech students, staff members, and faculty members who wish to vote early in Virginia's midterm election before Election Day. Sign up for a shuttle ride. Video by Ray Meese for Virginia Tech.

"College is an excellent time to explore what your role in your community can look like," said Meghan Weyrens Kuhn, director for VT Engage. "We all have the power to create change, but it can sometimes feel daunting when trying to figure out how to do it. Part of civic engagement work is about learning ways in which you can channel that power." 

During the fall semester, VT Engage is focused on voting outreach, particularly encouraging people to follow through with casting their ballot. Across higher education institutions, there is a trend of high voter registration but low turnout on Election Day. Virginia Tech students are no different: According to a 2018 report from The National Study Of Learning, Voting, And Engagement (NSLVE), Virginia Tech students were registered at 81.5 percent, but only 43.6 percent of those students voted in the midterm election. 

Over the years, a lot of work has been done across campus to engage students in civic engagement work including the former Student Government Association's ultimately successful efforts to make Squires a polling place. But part of the problem may be that many people don't feel that their single vote makes an impact. The VT Engage team hopes that by offering students a variety of opportunities to develop their civic voice, they'll start to feel more empowered and realize that voting is one of many tools they have to make themselves heard.

In addition to wondering if one vote can make a difference, students face similar issues that many others living in the U.S. face, including an extremely politically polarized country and rampant mis/dis-information across media. Then there are the barriers facing potential voters: finding time and transportation to be able to vote, knowing where their polling place is, voting eligibility, accessible voting options for disabled voters, and more.

To help students learn about these barriers and be informed voters, VT Engage supports student leaders from the Hokies Vote Caucus on voter engagement and education efforts. The caucus is made up of volunteer leaders who help put on programming with campus partners. Additionally, the center works with paid student fellows who do outreach to student organizations and classes to share information.

Student leaders at a information table on Virginia Tech's campus help others register to vote on National Voter Registration Day in September. Photo credit: Eisha KC.
Above: Student leaders help others register to vote on National Voter Registration Day in September. Photo credit: Eisha KC.

Following Election Day on Nov. 2, the team's work will shift to implementing a new program focused on deliberative dialogue across differences. Using the Kettering and National Issues Forum Institute model, student leaders will be trained in building these conversation skills and will lead conversations with fellow students.  

"Deliberative dialogues are not solely about any particular topic but about the skills it takes to have these types of conversations," said Maya Mahdi, a junior studying philosophy, politics, and economics and student director of the Hokies Vote Caucus. "The purpose of these dialogues is to help students develop valuable life skills like cooperation and empathy through practice."

These skills are ones that will not only serve students during their time in college but throughout their lives as they explore how best to contribute to the communities that they are a part of. VT Engage and Student Affairs are ready to help them explore. 

"In Student Affairs, we believe that it is our responsibility to engage in this work and to create space to discuss issues so we can learn to live together well," said Frank Shushok, vice president for Student Affairs. "We want to invite everyone to the table to learn the vital skills of increasing empathy, listening to others to understand their perspectives, and engaging in self-reflection. If we want to build a more just world, these are steps that we all need to take." 

  • Connect with VT Engage: all students, staff members, faculty members, and community members are encouraged to get involved with VT Engage and the Hokies Vote Caucus. Please contact Jes Davis at or (540) 231-6947 to learn more.
  • Need to verify your registration status or want to know what will be on your ballot? Head to to check your registration status and to get the information you need about what will be on your ballot this year. Please note: the deadline to register to vote or change your address has passed to vote in Virginia's November election.
  • Want to vote early? Saturday, Oct. 23 is Early Voting Day nationwide. Virginia Tech students, staff members, and faculty members are invited to sign up for a VT Engage shuttle ride to the polls to cast your vote ahead of Election Day.
  • Virginia's Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2. Make a plan to vote! Polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. If you are in line before 7:00 p.m., stay in line -- you can still cast your vote.
Share this story