IU South Bend student veteran receives Taylor L. Willingham Legacy Grant

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Staff Writer


Current IU South Bend Political Science and Sociology student, Rodger Pinto, has received one of this year’s two Taylor L. Willingham Legacy Fund awards.

According to the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), the grants are given to individuals to aid them in their research and to “develop an understanding of deliberative democracy and launch one or more deliberative dialogues in their communities and organizations in order to advance NIFI’s overall mission.”

IU South Bend professor, Elizabeth Bennion, weighed in on the NIFI’s decision to award Pinto the grant.

“I am not surprised that the NIFI selected Rodger as a national grant recipient. He is driven by his interest in collaborative decision-making and innovative public policy solutions that tackle the root causes of public problems affecting our communities,” said Bennion.

Pinto served in the U.S. Army from 2008-2014. He was an infantry paratrooper. Bennion believes that this experience speaks to his civic duty, as well as his dedication to the campus and community.

“Whether preparing new soldiers to face combat for the first time, directing a training and counseling program for veterans facing addiction and suicidal thoughts or creating a scholarship fund for veterans and their families, Rodger lives to serve others…He represents our campus with dignity and professionalism,” Bennion stated.

In addition to studying Political Science and Sociology at the undergraduate level, Pinto is also part of the Masters of Public Affairs Government graduate program.

Pinto is grateful for receiving this grant, as it will allow him to continue his work on campus. His studies are only part of his hard work here at IU South Bend.

“I also serve as a senator in the SGA [Student Government Association] and on several committees within the university system. I work within the IU South Bend Office of Veteran Student Services as an employee of the Veterans Administration and as the Lead Intern of the American Democracy Project,” said Pinto.

For Pinto this community service is important, allowing him to be a voice for veterans.

“It has allowed me to advocate not only for student veterans and military dependents but all IU South Bend students,” said Pinto.

At this time, Pinto has a four-part deliberative dialogue series tentatively planned for the Fall 2019 semester. These will be followed by three forums focused on various issues such as immigration and poverty which will bring the campus together to actively discuss these issues.

Pinto says it will be far from a lecture, but rather a community and campus-wide discussion.

“[We will consider these issues and try to understand] how do these issues impact our community, what are the proposed policy solutions, and how can we as a people come to solutions together are the key components of these events,” Pinto said.

While Pinto continues to work on organizing these forums for the Fall semester, he wants readers to remember: “Deliberative dialogue is not a one-way street…It is a process of deliberation that finds its strength in the diversity of backgrounds and experiences.” said Pinto.

Bennion mentions that there is a lot for participants to gain from attending the forums.

For instance, “People who participate in this series will learn the important skill of deliberative dialogue, a skill that can be used throughout a lifetime and one that seems to be lacking in today’s political landscape, especially at the national level,” Bennion said.

Along those same lines, Bennion emphasized: “Participants in these events will emerge with a better understanding of the topic while forging empathy, mutual understanding, and some points of agreement among participants with diverse backgrounds and ideological views. I know because I have seen this happen with other groups Rodger has led.”

Students who participate in the complete series will be provided with participation certificates.

“This will be a nice way to document these transferable skills,” Bennion said.

Gaining knowledge, new skills from each event and broadening their networks to include others interested in being “agents of change” are just a few of the things Bennion said students can look forward to.

In his future, Pinto wants to attend law school. After law school, he plans to continue to pursue a career in international policy and government service.

“These areas interest me because I strongly feel that smart policy built through international collaboration is required to successfully confront the most challenging issues facing humanity,” concluded Pinto.

“Unfortunately, many people assume that these problems are too big to be solved. Now more than ever, we need people to put their heads together and gather with open hearts and minds to deliberate about how to make our communities and our world a better place for us all. One thing is for sure. We’ll never make things better if we don’t try,” Bennion said.


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