MSU PLS class launches Lansing Citizen Manual to inspire and inform young people to get involved in policy and government

May 7, 2024 - Karessa Weir

What do teenagers need to know to be productive citizens? A new MSU political science course believes it has figured it out and is putting PLS students together with high schoolers to improve their civics education.  

Dr. Sarah Reckhow’s Civic Education and Local Democracy class this spring was a hybrid of undergraduates and students in the department’s Master of Public Policy graduate program. The group of 18 students used a blueprint from Detroit to create the website Lansing Citizen. It is targeted at teens and young people who are interested in becoming more knowledgeable and active in their community.  

It provides information on where to vote, the history of the city of Lansing, and even a game – Lansing Quest – where the players can solve common problems of city governments like potholes and non-working streetlights.  

At Lansing Eastern High School, three social studies classes and one afterschool group provided the college students with input before the site was created and then tested it for them afterward.  

Political science junior Daniel Schapira, PLS senior/linked MPP student Katie Von Steinman, MPP student Morrigan Potter and Callahan Morley, a PLS senior, all joined Dr. Reckhow in Sarah Graham’s class to share the guide with students.  

citizen3.jpg“We were inspired by a Detroit citizen’s manual. We don’t have that in Lansing so we tried to make that for you,” Dr. Reckhow told the high schoolers. “We’ve got the history of Lansing government and how you can get involved. It was not easy to build and the students worked really hard to make this a great resource for you.” 

Morrigan presented the history portion of the website which includes notable figures from the past. Most of the information came from reviewing the archives of the Capital Area District Library’s main branch as well as MSU’s archives. It includes the saga of integrating Lansing schools and the role that basketball great Magic Johnson played in it.  

“They even took the dirt,” Morrigan told the students, explaining how the construction of the 496 highway destroyed many majority Black neighborhoods around Lansing.  

Katie focused on the local government portion of the citizen’s manual. She met with students face to face to find out what they wanted to know about their city government and visited downtown offices to find the answers.  

“I really enjoyed the research aspect and getting into the archives was super cool,” she said. “I also liked that the class had both undergraduates and MPP students so we got different points of view.” 

Callahan presented the students with the section on how they can register to vote, where the polling districts are in the region and most importantly, why they should bother to vote. 

The website also features a section on youth engagement and resources to organizations where young people can become more involved in policy and government.  

“It is really really cool. I am very impressed with the work they’ve done and the collection of resources they found. The avenues that students can get involved is also a really useful tool for teachers,” said Graham.  

The students seemed impressed as well. One claimed he “didn’t know we had a mayor” and another was surprised to learn Malcom X was born in Lansing.  

PLS senior Rachel Kriese was able to program the website and Brett Harris created the Lansing Quest game while Dr. Reckhow provided the videos and photos that appear on it. Other students involved in the project were Nicolas Babarskis, Justin Brust, Karolyn Davis, Anna Fox, Chloe Hartridge, Dale Kruithoff, Tristan Mackay, Amy Maktheva, Ashley Putnam-Murray, Hannah Raymond, Lali Tobin and Jennifer Vazquez-Reyna.