Student Recommendations Impact Local Legislative Agenda


At the request of Town Council and Chestertown Mayor, students researched ways to increase civic engagement at the local level. Several recommendations were later proposed by the Mayor for the Council to consider implementing.

The Maryland flag flies off the front of Chestertown Town Hall

Recently, 10 political science majors in Patrick Nugent’s Political Science 394 class presented potential ways to deepen participation in the democratic process in Chestertown and Kent County to Town Council. The resulting report, the Democratic Revitalization Research Initiative, was a collaboration between the town and the Department of Political Science. At a later Town Council meeting, the Mayor brought two of the recommendations put forth by the class—raising Council member pay and aligning local elections to be timed with statewide congressional elections—to the table for Council consideration, citing their research in support for the measures.

With an eye on increasing voter engagement in local elections, growing electoral competition, diversifying participation in civic decision-making, and mobilizing younger generations, the class’s bipartisan study drew insights from notable sources including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute for Citizens and Scholars, and several university institutes dedicated to democratic engagement. Their recommendations to the Council included increasing Town Council and Mayor pay rates to draw more diverse candidates to run for office and holding more opportunities for community participatory budgeting. They also stressed the importance of courting engagement and participation of Gen Z and younger generations and provided several suggestions for how that may be accomplished.  

At the conclusion, Mayor J. David Foster said the recommendations were “very solid.” Foster had noted at the project’s outset that the effort shows the town’s dedication to strengthening democracy. 

Jordan Hyde ‘25 plans to apply what she’s learned throughout this process to an upcoming voter engagement internship next year.  “It is exciting to know that our class, and others, are striving to make various democratic revitalizations at the local level in an effort to increase both voter and civic engagement,” said Hyde. “My classmates and I can attest to the fact that this project required an extensive amount of town research, planning, and collaboration on a number of ideas. I am optimistic that these ideas, ranging from improving electoral competition to youth engagement, will not only increase voter outcomes in the upcoming elections, but they will also help ensure Chestertown is representative of all demographics, and of all interests." 

For Isabelle Guimarães, an exchange student from Brazil attending Washington for the spring semester, the class and connecting their work to the town government was gratifying and educational on several levels.

"The experience of participating in a town hall meeting and presenting my class research was truly invigorating. From it, I have regained hope in democracy and government institutions,” Guimarães said. “Through this, I learned much about the town of Chestertown, its issues, and its virtues. In the end, I hope the town implements some of the solutions presented, such as joining the 'Our Common Purpose' project, exploring alternatives to engage College students in the town's decisions, increasing the salaries of elected local representatives to promote diversity, among others." 

Previously, Council Member Tom Herz expressed his enthusiasm for the project, stating, "It has never been more important to get more people interested in participating in their local, municipal government. Understanding how to accomplish that is the first step. I'm proud to work with Washington College to bring the brain power of their highly engaged students to the table to help answer the question of how we increase civic engagement." 

This research and resulting recommendations are intended to inspire and guide the Town of Chestertown in considering future models for enhancing civic engagement. 

“Our students want to conduct research that will make a difference, and this is exactly the type of project that can inspire them to do their best work,” said Nugent, the Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. Director of Civic Engagement. “I hope their findings will inspire Chestertown residents to proactively work to strengthen our local democracy.”   

The political science department at Washington College is designed to provide an understanding of the political forces, institutions, ideas, and problems of contemporary society. The curriculum prepares students for graduate studies and professional careers in law, politics, teaching, journalism, government, and international civil service.  

— Dominique Ellis Falcon